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.
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 1/27/2006 | 11:54 am
A recent survey by the Moroccan daily, L'Economiste has revealed that over 85% of young Moroccans aged between 16 and 29 practise their religion regardless of where they live or their social background.
The survey, which questioned a sample of 776 young people, said that 99% of young men and women fast in Ramadan, and 90% of them perform their prayers regularly or occasionally. Only 9% of them declared they had never prayed.
The survey stated that age is not a factor that contributes to the change in religious habits. However, the social background may be a reason why some young people don't perform their religious rituals. The survey said there are more 'non-performers' among the rich and middle class: 16% of them belonging to rich families said they don't pray or have never prayed; 8% from Middle class and 9% from poor families.
Asked about marriage, 67% of them said they could marry a non-Moroccan, but 73% said they won't marry a non-Muslim. The survey also revealed that 49% of young men prefer their wives to wear the veil.
These results explain, according to the paper, that the majority of Moroccans feel themselves Muslims before being Moroccans. “And this gives us an idea about the identity of the adults of tomorrow,” stated the paper.
Regarding young people's view of al-Qaida organisation, 44% of them said al-Qaida is not a terrorist organisation, 31% said they had no idea whether al-Qaida is a terrorist organisation or not. The paper questioned whether these people are really ignorant about al-Qaida or whether it was a way of not stating an opinion.
Claiming that al-Qaida is not a terrorist organisation is mainly due, according to L'Economiste, to the US-led war in Iraq. For 76%, the US war in Iraq is unjustified and negative. The paper said there is a real condemnation by the Moroccan youth of the US foreign policy. “For them the al-Qaida represents an opposition to the US power. That could explain why many young Moroccan say al-Qaida is not a terrorist organisation,” explained the paper.
It also stated that those who asserted al-Qaida is not a terrorist organisation belong to poor families. Only 30% of rich people said it is not. “The poorer we are, the more we love al-Qaida,” said the daily.
The daily also questioned the young Moroccans about different other themes including sexuality, men-women relationships, superstitions, polygamy, friendship, money, marriage, etc.
The survey was conducted by Sunergia for L'Economiste in the autumn of 2005. It questioned a sample of 776 young people, of which 390 are men and 386 are women. The survey has taken into consideration the geographical location, age, sex, social background, and the zone (rural-urban).
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 5/14/2006 | 1:46 pm
Moroccans top the list of people who most frequently look up for romance and love on the internet, revealed a research conducted by the internet search engine, Google Trends.
Algerians and Tunisians were also among the top three who search for "amour”, the French word for love, on the net, said the US daily, International Herald Tribune, which published the findings under the title: Which nations search for what.
Paris, allegedly a romantic haven, is absent from the top 10. With the current political situation in France, French users seem to be more interested in politics rather than love. Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy draws as many searches on his own as his rivals, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, combined.
Politics also played a role in orienting Internet users' searches in the Middle East. According to the findings, Iranians seem to have “googled” up George Bush twice as often as their own president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Bush also commands at least seven times as many searches in Russia as its own leader, Vladimir Putin. Among the French, Bush generates about 50 % more look-ups than Chirac.
Other findings suggest the stirrings of a trend in different countries. Pakistanis look up "Danish cartoons" more avidly than anyone, according to Google. They also lead the rankings for "sex" - with India far behind.
In Saudi Arabia, even though homosexuality is punishable by death, the kingdom ranks No. 2 for searches for "gay sex," behind the Philippines, said Google.
In Britain, Web surfers in Birmingham are more likely than those in any other city to search for pornography, said the BBC referring to the Google research.
The facility showed that the amount of searches on the word "porn" reached an all-time high in 2005.
Regarding “Guns", a word allegedly associated with the United States, it was surprisingly the center of interest for Latin Americans. International Herald Tribune reported that due to the rising incidence of violent kidnappings and murders in Latin America it has perhaps driven searchers to the Web for answers.
Searchers for "Allah" come overwhelmingly from the Islamic world. But, the word is searched from the Dutch-language version of Google more than from the Arabic-language one. Norwegian, French, Danish, Swedish and German sites also featured in the top 10 for "Allah" inquiries.
Google Trends, a new site introduced Thursday, measures how often particular phrases are searched for from computers in individual countries and cities.
The site works by sampling all searches matching a single word and determining the cities from which it received the most hits.
From those top cities, the ratio of searches is calculated by dividing it by the total Google searches coming from the same city.
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 2/24/2006 | 12:44 am
Morocco has suspended imports of one-day-old genitor birds and poultry from countries where the bird flu virus has been declared, and placed an order for 10 million vaccine doses, MAP news agency reported.
An inter-ministerial crisis management commission (CIGC) in charge of controlling the H5N1 virus said on Monday the government will vaccinate all non-confinable birds to ward off possible infection from migratory birds.
The concerned birds include ostrich, duck, partridge, bustard, and pheasant, MAP news agency said, quoting the CIGC. It added that the supply commission is seeking to purchase more vaccines.
As bird flu has already found its way into the African continent, the Moroccan government has tightened its preventive measures against the disease.
Vigilance is a must, said the commission, although no case has been recorded, noting that on Wednesday alone some 60 analyses were made.
Early February, a group of over 300 cattle egrets was found dead at the Dait Roumi Lake, central Morocco. Moroccan authorities affirmed this was a case of collective intoxication.
The High Commissioner for Water, Forest, and Anti-Desertification, Abdeladim El Hafi, said last week the country is fully prepared to face any potential risk of avian flu.
After the disease reached some countries of the European Union (EU), and recently Nigeria and Egypt, Moroccans have become more concerned about any possible infection of the national poultry.
“Morocco is now in a state of surveillance,” El Hafi said in an interview with Arabic-language daily Assahra Al Maghribia. “This concerns 40 different regions... which receive migrating birds,” he added.
In addition, the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and Sea Fisheries, Mohand Laenser, and the Minister of Health Mohamed Cheikh Biadillah assured that no case of avian flu has been registered so far in the Kingdom, drawing attention to the necessity of staying on high alert as to the deadly strain of avian flu, the H5N1 virus.
On Wednesday, Premier Driss Jettou, who along with a number of ministers visited a poultry farm, also affirmed the inexistence of any case of avian influenza in Morocco.
He told the press "the public and the international opinion will be informed automatically and without any hesitation in case the H5N1 virus is detected in Morocco."
Earlier this month, the Health Minister took part in an Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) regional meeting in Tunis to tackle the global bird flu threat.
The five UMA member states considered the challenges imposed by the spread of the disease in the world, and looked into the ways to counter any possible appearance of the H5N1 virus in the region.
Morocco started a preventive policy against bird flu in early October, as the government worked out a national action plan to avert any potential risk of the disease, imposing stricter quarantine measures on poultry farms, border posts and slaughter houses.
Set up in 2004, the commission was created to keep an eye on the development of the disease in the world, report on the situation in infected countries, and guarantee the protection of the country from the disease.
Last month, 33 countries and multilateral institutions met in Beijing, pledging USD 1.9 billion to fight the disease.
Until now, studies showed that there has been no human-to-human contamination.
By Karima Rhanem | Morocco TIMES 12/21/2005 | 4:27 pm
Rabat---Freedom of the media and freedom of expression are key elements to promote democracy, underlined US and Arab panelists in a meeting organized in Rabat, Dec.19-20, by the American Moroccan Institute on US-Arab Relations Through the Media.
Participants in the conference which gather journalists from the Arab world and the United States highlighted the importance of media as an engine for democracy and a key source of information aiming at raising the public opinion's awareness and asked the authorities to look into certain issues.
The New York Times reporter Michael Slackman said that to be able to enjoy democracy one needs a freedom of expression and a freedom of the press which allows the journalist to provide correct and credible information to his readers. He stressed that the media is more powerful than militias.
He emphasized the important role media can play in creating public debate, referring to several leading US papers which revealed key information about US secret prisons in Europe, and Bush spying on Americans after 9/11.
“This information may not change big things but it created a national debate, and it made the president explain his acts and decisions publicly, and that's the real journalism,” Slackman argued.
He acknowledged, however, the negative role the US media can have when it misleads public opinion by publishing unverified information.
As to the language used by the western media, Slackman said that the journalist should be very careful when dealing with the terminology of terrorism. Citing the example of Hezbollah, he questioned whether one should call it a terrorist organization as President Bush named it, or see it as a resistance movement as the people of Lebanon and others in the Arab world view it.
“I believe the reasons why we do have a lack of understanding between the United States and the Arab World is that we do tend to generalize. In this respect, we need to educate people and review previous educational text books by providing people accurate information and honest historical facts,” Slackman explained.
In the same vain, Al-Jazeera correspondent in Washington Mohamed Alami said that the freedom of press does not make democracy but it is part of it.
He said that freedom of the media is a product of democracy, stating that the latter constitutes a fundamental principle to which the US gives a great importance.
Echoing Slackman, Alami said that a journalist should be very careful when covering events related to terrorism.
“The worst a journalist can do is to overgeneralize or follow the demands of the public,” he explained.
Other panelists discussed mass-mediated terrorism and the Arab and American image in the media after 9/11. They stressed the need to open a new and serious dialogue between the US and the Arab world to overcome stereotype each has of the other.
Raghida Dergham, a NY-based senior diplomatic correspondent for the Arabic language newspaper, Al-Hayat, said that the Arab-Muslim causes—as well as the aspirations of future generations—are being undermined by terrorist atrocities.
“Condemnation is no longer enough, especially if qualified by pointing to bad American policies. The situation has deteriorated to such a degree that pre-emptive action by Arab-Muslim grassroots is now essential—otherwise, all will be tarred with the brush of terrorism forever. Such action involves taking a decisive decision to ostracize all terrorist jihadists, notwithstanding their sometimes just complaints against unfair American policies and oppressive Arab regimes,” she argued.
She said that Americans must work to learn about the impact of their foreign policy. “They can no longer afford to remain indifferent,” she added.
Dergham stressed that “the US should engage Arabs and Muslims as committed partners in the war against terrorism, which would require adjusting the foreign policy, adopting a new approach to the silent majority, reforming relationships with governments of that region, adopting a more respectful tone toward Arabs and Muslims, and standing up to extremists with “one standard and equal resolve, whether they are Muslims, Christians or Jews.”
As for Arabs and Muslims, Dergham said, they must stop exporting blame, making America a convenient culprit for their problems when it is just as much internal.
“A major source of frustration for Arabs and Muslims is that they do not understand America's unconditional support of Israel and believe that America gave Israel the right to do whatever it wishes, including the demolition of Palestinian homes,” she said.
Alfred Hackensberger, Sky News correspondent said that “there is a certain fear of the Arab world in the west, and it seems that nobody wants to understand why there is this miscommunication between the two blocks.
“From my experience as a journalist, I see that regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for example, there is a tendency in the western media to focus on the sufferings of the Israelis alone. So it is a one-sided view of the event. There is a big lack of information on the Arab world, but at the same time a big lack of interest in what's going on there,” Hackensberger explained.
Christopher Dickey, Paris Bureau Chief and Middle East Regional Editor for Newsweek Magazine, reinforced Hackensberger's comment by stating that “what Americans want to know about the rest of the world is to forget about it.”
He referred to America's isolation and ignorance about the rest of the world, particularly the Arab World.
“America is a nation of immigration and people go there to build their future. So they disconnect with their worlds and focus only on their lives in the US. Americans don't know your history and they simply don't care.”
“After 9/11 Americans started to look for clues to understand what's going on in the world and eventually asked the fundamental question: why do they hate us?” he added.
He stressed that with the war in Iraq, America has again isolated itself, which will be difficult to overcome.
Jane Arraf, CNN's Senior Baghdad Correspondent said that after 9/11, there was a politicizing of messages which defamed the reality of events. She stressed that a real communication is needed to bridge the gap between the US and the Arab World and to inform the US grassroots about what's really going on in the world.
Panelists agreed that sustained efforts should be made to preserve dialogue between the US and the Arab world, and that could be done, among other things, through the promotion of democracy and the encouragement of the freedom of the media and the freedom of expression.