When the media pronounce the verdict before the judge
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 3/18/2005 | 8:17 am
The hearing of “La‚foura and Slimani”, one of the top embezzlement cases in Morocco, is scheduled for today. It has attracted the attention of national media for several months. Their trial was postponed several times because of the absence of witnesses.
The March 18 hearing is said to be the real beginning of the trial if the 25 summoned witnesses appear before the judge. However, the media seem to have pronounced the verdict even before the beginning of the trial, launching a ferocious campaign against the defendants.
If you ask a simple man in the street who is La‚foura and Slimani, he will definately answer "Ah douk iisaba dial chofara" (oh those criminal gang specialized in stealing our money". The public opinion qualify them as criminals due to what has been written in national media.
The latter have given a grotesque picture of the case, making it more politicized as the name of former Minister of Interior Driss Basri was mentioned during the investigation and interrogation phases. The role of media in this case could influence the trial process. While reading newspapers, you got confused with the different story versions you get.
While closely reading the case, the fundamental question one should ask is why the judicial police had to wait for more than 17 years to open a probe into the case?! Police investigations indicated that the defendants- Abdel Moughit Slimani, Abdelaziz La‚foura and others- had stolen more than MAD 151 million of public money.
The story goes back to the 1980s, when Abdel Moughit Slimani was head of both the “Roches Noires” local municipality and the Greater Casablanca Municipal Council.
The embezzlement case began when the “Roches Noires” Municipality decided to build a 5 star hotel in its area. The Municipality ear-marked MAD 19 million from its 1987 budget for this project. In 1988, the project was accepted by the Ministry of Tourism. However, in less than six months, the Casablanca Municipal Council decided to transfer the MAD 19 million, in a special account, to another project for economic housing called the “Ouled Ziane and Fouarat” project.
“Ouled Ziane” contains 31 buildings, 661 apartments and other facilities. The land surface covers 5.5 hectares.
“Fouarat” contains 18 apartments, and 54 shops. The land surface covers 8000 square metres.
The project's special account was accepted by both the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Finance in 1989. Beside the MAD 19 million, the “Roches Noires” Municipality was granted a loan estimated at MAD 102 million from CIH “Crťdit Immobilier et Hotelier”. Up to now everything was legal.
However, judicial police investigations indicated that the embezzlement took place in the phase of the project implementation. The investigations also revealed that the fraudulent appropriation of funds happened at the time when Abdel Moughit Slimani and members of his family were building their hotel 'Tivoli' in Agadir.
Key Elements in this Case
La‚foura and Slimani:
Abdel Moughit Slimani was head of both the “Roches Noires” local municipality and the Greater Casablanca Municipal Counsel. Abdel Aziz La‚foura, head of AÔn Seba‚- Hay Mohamedi prefecture. They are accused of stealing millions of dirhams from public money.
Boujema‚ Youssefi, a businessman, had benefited from four government procurements, deals which amounted around MAD 152 million. According to him, Abdel Moughit Slimani used his power to rig the bid to his own companies. Three deals went to his company EMBA to finish the workshops of the Ouled Ziane project; and one to his other company SONATIBA to finish the workshops of the Fouarat project.
The Rabat and Casablanca police departments issued two arrest warrants against him: one for the use of a rubber cheque and the other for the misuse of public money.
While arrested, Youssefi decided, under pressure, to reveal everything about the embezzlements. He had accused Abdel Moughit Slimani and his assistants in the Municipality of controlling all the financial operations related to his own business accounts. According to Youssefi, Slimani and others took the money that had been transferred to his accounts and used this to build their own projects.
Youssefi is held in custody with other defendants. He will appear tomorrow with others before the judge.
Jean Victor Lovat:
Jean Victor Lovat, a Suisse investor, is one of the key elements in this case. He had met Slimani in the late 80's. They had later a deal to construct “Le Tivoli” hotel, owned now by Slimani and former Minister of Interior Driss Basri. He was later involved in the embezzlement case related to the “Ouled Ziane and Fouarat” project. He is the first who sent a criminal complaint in July 10, 2003 to the Casablanca court of first instance against the defendants. His complaint has eventually led to a discovery request, a formal investigation governed by court rules and conducted before trial.
According to the criminal complaint, Abdel Moughit Slimani used his power to rig the bid for a government procurement- related to the construction of the headquarters of Ain Seba‚ Municipality- to Lofat's company “Helectiva” (a construction company)
Lovat has also two other companies- 'Latinus' (wood working company), and 'Lomato' (company specialized in the management of tourist and trade institutions) - and a hotel 'Oasis' in Agadir city, south of Morocco. The Suisse investor said that Slimani managed to convince Lahsen Hirouf, president of AÔn Seba‚ Municipality, and Abdel Aziz La‚foura, head of AÔn Seba‚- Hay Mohamedi prefecture to give himt the deal.
He was told that the money reserved for this construction project is MAD 42 million, and that he should give a commercial bribery to La‚foura (a MAD 700,000).
Slimani and Hirouf would get their part after Lofat had won the second part of the offer.
Hirouf asked Lovat to present an offer that didn't exceed MAD 14 million to win the procurement. The latter had accepted the proposal.
Beside the deal on the construction of the Municipality, Lovat was asked by Slimani at the end of 1993 to help him solve some problems related to the “Ouled Ziane and Fouarat” project.
The complaint stated that the companies which had won bids to construct this project, namely Boujema‚ Youssefi's companies, had not finished their job, though they had been paid in advance.
It was then agreed that Lovat would finish the incomplete workshops on condition that he won't take any profit to hide the embezzlement Slimani and his partners did. The Suisse investor stated that he spent his own money to finish the workshops.
He went to prison for two years in Ait Melloul in Agadir for forgery and embezzlement.
He fled to Switzerland after his release from the prison. In an interrogation with Jamal Sarhan, the Judge in this case, in Switzerland, Lovat indicated, that Driss Basri, former Minister of Interior, currently living in France, had a prior knowledge about the embezzlement case, but did nothing to stop it, or even investigate in the case.
Mohamed Ouahib is an Iraqi investor in Morocco. He also sent a criminal complaint against the defendants accusing them of stealing his money, and threatening him, using violence and taking out his resident ID. The defendants include Abdel Moughit Slimani, Jean Victor Lovat and others. Ouahib also sent another criminal complaint accusing former Minister of Interior of protecting Abdel Moughit Slimani and his group.
Basri has a close relationship with Slimani. The latter is his brother in law. The Iraqi Embassy in Rabat decided to support Mohammed Ouahib in his complaint against Driss Basri. The embassy stated that her primary interest is to protect Iraqi citizens living or working in Morocco.
The City Council:
The Casablanca City Council had appointed himself a civil part in this case demanding more than MAD 40 billion as compensation.
What Slimani's lawyer had to say about the case?
“The case for us is a very technical, not a political one as the media want to show,” said Mostapha Boudhar, Slimani's lawyer.
Boudhar added that the Feb 16 hearing was postponed to March 18 to summon Abdellatif chraibi, director of the office of studies at the Casablanca prefecture in charge of the “Ouled Ziane and Fouarat” project. The postponement was also due to the absence of 12 among the 25 witnesses summoned to appear before the judge.
Among the witnesses are Omar El Bahraoui, the mayor of Rabat; Mohammed Kemou, Slimani's assistant in the Municipality; Abdelrezak Afilal, a political official, Driss Ettoulali, an official from the Ministry of Interior, and others.
In a phone conversation with Morocco Times, Slimani's lawyer questioned whether Jean Victor Lovat's money is considered “public money” and why there was no follow up as to why Lovat is asking for a civil right in this case? Boudhar said that only the Ministry if Interior and the Ministry of finance could demand a civil right, because the issue is related to public money.
“Lovat already served a two year sentence in Agadir prison for forgery and issuing rubber cheques, and I demand that he comes to Morocco to appear before the judge,” said Boudhar.
He added that they were not informed about the decision to interrogate Lovat by the Judge in Switzerland. So, we demand that judicial police clerks be summoned to appear before the judge.
“The police investigators should first be specialized in fraud and embezzlement cases. While studying the case, I have noticed that there are many mistakes and that the judicial police in charge of this case are not expert in treasury issues,” said Boudhar
It seems that the case is too complicated than you can imagine. The name of Driss Basri, which surrounds the case, leads the press to qualify the case as political. Observers say that La‚foura and Slimani is just a beginning to prepare a law suit against Driss Basri. To what extent these accusations are true? will the defendants be granted a bail? Will the Suisse Jean Victor Lovat be summoned to appear before the judge? These questions will only be answered after the hearing.