Seychelles former First Lady in trouble over missing US$50 million

by Tulip Charowa

THE Seychelles Supreme Court on Friday rejected for a second time a plea for a review of bail conditions for Sarah Zarqani-René (photo), 63-year-old wife of the former President of Seychelles.

Rene who has been charged with money laundering in the case of the missing $50 million from a government account, the most serious corruption case in Seychelles’ recent history.

Zarqani-René, the widow of former President France Albert René, was seeking to lower her bail, which has been set at $2 million with two sureties of $1 million each for the offence of money laundering and concealment of property.

The presiding judge, Chief Justice Rony Govinden, rejected her plea to review the bail conditions as he said the charges and circumstances remain the same.

The court also ordered the Commissioner of Police to ensure that the basic human rights of Laura Valabhji, an accused in the same case, is respected while she is in detention. 

Valabhji, who also appeared before the Supreme Court on Friday, has been charged with money laundering while her husband, Mukesh Valabhji, a prominent businessman and former CEO of the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB), has been charged with conspiracy to commit official corruption. They also face terrorism charges as a result of a cache of arms found at their residence at Port Glaud, on the main island of Mahe. 

In his plea to the courts, Valabhji’s lawyer Frank Elizabeth stated that although the “issues may seem petty, they must be addressed in the utmost urgency as it seems the police does not seem to understand the human rights aspects of the case.”

He revealed that the police have not allowed Valabhji to have time in the sun and have not provided her with the legal documents pertaining to her case, which is preventing her from working on her defence as she is a lawyer by profession.

Her lawyer alleged that the police have also not allowed her to have a change of clean clothes from her residence or her glasses that she needs to read.

Elizabeth added that Valabhji is not getting access to her medication while she is being detained and he said that “it is embarrassing to ask the court at every occasion to safeguard his client’s basic human rights.”

Govinden has allowed the prosecution time to consult with police officers to ascertain whether there is truth to the allegations.

He then ordered that “the police must comply with the orders the court had previously established where the accused is concerned.”

The case brought forth by the Anti-Corruption Commission concerns $50 million which went missing after the funds were granted to the government of Seychelles by the United Arab Emirates in 2002. The funds were then transferred to a bank account of the SMB, now known as the Seychelles Trading Company (STC), at a branch of the Bank of Baroda in England.

The prosecution alleges that the funds were returned to Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, to pay for hotels sold in the privatisation of the COSPROH holdings, a state-owned enterprise which owned several hotels.

According to court papers, “the sums involved form a large portion of the misappropriated assets and led to the hotels moving to private hands under the control of Valabhji and other involved persons.”

Laura Valabhji and Zarqani-René were the only two accused in court on Friday. The four others in the corruption case are expected back in court on January 14. 

Others charged in the case are Mukesh Valabji; Leslie Benoiton – a senior officer in the Seychelles Defence Forces; Lekha Nair – former CEO of the Seychelles Pension Fund, who was director general in the Ministry of Finance at the time the funds went missing; and Maurice Loustau-Lalanne – former Minister of Finance, who was a member of the board of COSPROH at the time the funds were transferred.

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Source:
Seychelles News Agency

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