Of myths and facts

By Shaffick Hamuth O commentaire //

Google Dawood Rawat and you will find his name associated with Ponzi schemes, mismanagement, financial scandals and even referred to as ‘Le Bernard Madoff mauricien”. But the fact remains that Dawood Rawat has not been convicted of any financial crime by any court of law yet.

Similarly, Alvaro Sobrihno, the Angolan business tycoon, faces various allegations of financial misconduct. The press has fed us a lot about his alleged doings, or rather wrongdoings, but we have not seen any record of any conviction yet. It also appears that the Court of Appeal of Lisbon has cleared the prominent businessman of all allegations of financial misconduct.

According to the Portuguese news agency Lusa, following allegations against Sobrinho and his family businesses, the public prosecutor had seized assets including some of the businessman’s luxury apartments in Lisbon, Portugal. However, following further investigation, the Court of Appeal found that there was no evidence for the claim and released the assets.  Court of appeal Judges Mr Rui Rangel and Deputy Mr Francisco Caramel announced the decision.

This latest case comes in a context where Angola and Portugal are redefining their post-colonial relationship. Sobrinho is amongst a number of prominent and high-net worth Angolan business figures investing heavily in Portugal. As the Guardian newspaper reported, Portugal indebted to Angola after economic reversal of fortune, "Well-off Angolan families are now the only people who can afford to shop on the capital's upmarket Avenida da Liberdade…they are investing in luxury apartments at Cascais, a fashionable seaside resort, and buying up companies hastily privatised by the authorities. They – and the Chinese – are the prime beneficiaries of the "golden visas" that the government of Portugal has promised to anyone investing €500,000 in the country.”

Now we turn to the Planet Earth Institute. This charity organisation registered in UK on 15 November 2011 (Charity Number 1144673) has 16 eminent members from across the globe, mainly distinguished global scientific advisers.  Among them, Lord Paul Boateng, a leading figure on Africa and its development and a member of the UK House of Lords, having been raised to peerage in July 2010. Sir Christopher Edwards is another highly distinguished academic, knighted in 2008 in recognition of his contribution to science, academia and the medical sector in the United Kingdom.

Sir Christopher was also the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, leading a transformation programme that saw it become one of the UK’s finest higher education institutions. Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub is Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London and Founder and Director of Research at the Harefield Heart Science Centre (Magdi Yacoub Institute). Born and raised in Egypt, he established the largest heart and lung transplantation programme in the world where more than 2,500 transplant operations have been performed. Sir Magdi has an active interest in global healthcare delivery, and a strong interest in accelerating scientific and technological advancement in Africa.

Dr. Mukesh Khare is Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India, and member of the PEI Global Scientific Committee. Professor Khare received his PhD in Faculty of Engineering (Specialized in Air Quality) from the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1989. The Planet Earth Institute has as partners, reputed institutions, among them, the Royal Academy of Engineering, The British Council and the Indian Institute Of Technology (IIT) Delhi, Newcastle University and the University of Glasgow.

All these eminent personalities continue to sit on the Board of Planet Earth Institute (PEI) and the Charity Commission UK has not issued any adverse alert on PEI. It therefore beggars belief how critics can single out the President of the Republic, the Patron of PEI are jump to conclusion about the financing of PEI. Does it mean that if any of the 16 eminent members decide to invest in Mauritius or contribute to our economy in one way or another, we will turn them down just because they happen to be associated with Sobrinho?

Now, if institutions such as the FSC have failed in their duties, then this is a different story. Unless it is proved that the President of the Republic is actively involved in the business dealings of the Angolan businessmen or whether she has intervened to facilitate the granting of licences to any of Sobrinho’s companies, any attempt to link her to the alleged ‘scandals’ amounts to pure character assassination with imputed motives. Unfortunately, people do not do their homework and let them be guided, or rather misguided by propaganda.

To add insult to injury, some press titles have been claiming that the President, whilst in Office, is a Director of a company registered in London. But they are not aware (or they pretend not to) that the UK system of registration is different from what we are used to in Mauritius. For example, what we call NGO here, falling under the Registrar of Associations, is known in UK as a social enterprise, which can be both a registered charity under the Charities Commission or in the form of a Private company limited by guarantee without share capital registered with the Companies House and where profit making is not the motive. The Office Bearers are regarded as ‘Directors’ though they may not derive any salary or monetary benefits. Such a situation cannot be compared with a Company Director in Mauritius. Yet, this information is deliberately hidden from the public in order to mislead public opinion. […] If Bérenger, who aspires to be Prime Minister in 2018, had cared to verify his info, he would have understood the types of companies registered under UK Companies House.  Incidentally, Bérenger as Minister of Finance in 2001 who presented the Companies Act in Parliament must have surely done his homework by researching all company types across the globe before enacting this legislation! Then how could he be ignorant of the UK system?

It has also been said that the Budget measure to empower the Financial Services Commission to grant ‘Investment Banking Licence’ to financial companies could be part of a pre-determined ploy to ‘assist’ the Angolan Businessman. In fact, the idea of conferring the FSC the power to grant ‘Investment Banking Licence’ was first suggested by economist Arvind Nilmadhub and his team, who have extensive experience in investment promotion, in his Budget Proposals, and the proposal was retained, along with many other economic proposals, such as launching a Financial Literary campaign. The team has also suggested that the network of Citizens’ Advice Bureau across the island be revived to tackle Citizen Facilitation and that the government comes up with a ‘Clean Up Mauritius’ campaign, inspired by the ‘Fleurir Maurice’ of 1984. Fortunately, both ideas have been retained.