Categories
Politics Transparency

Patrick Humphrey Must Be Held Accountable By The UK Government

Patrick Humphrey may not be a household name but in the Seychelles he is having a tremendous impact on one of the most important cases the country has ever seen. A United Kingdom citizen contracted to the Anti-Corruption Commission of the Seychelles (ACCS), he is a former police officer now working full-time in the island nation.

Contracted through Hamburg based consulting firm GFA, which itself has in the past been accused of severe instances of corruption, Humphrey worked alongside two colleagues, Kevin Carty and Ian McDonald, all experienced anti-corruption investigators. Their activities as well as the ACCS are funded by the European Union which has invested hundreds and thousands of Euros to support good governance and in order to combat the kind of corruption Humphrey and his colleagues are engaged in.

Of the three experts, Humphrey came in as the training coordinator. One of the first things he actually focused on in terms of training and exercises was teaching the ACCS how to properly conduct property and house searches specifically, according to a report from 2019 in the Nation. Interestingly it is exactly on this issue that he is being accused of gross misconduct and even facilitating illegal activities.

Specifically, the properties of two of the accused in the case of the USD 50 million, Mukesh and Laura Valabhji were reportedly recently searched, and there have been reports of the the properties being both looted and vandalized. It is unclear if it was the investigators themselves who stole property from the households, or if the team simply did not do enough to secure the premises. Either way, one would expect an experienced investigator the likes of Mr Humphrey to know how to mitigate such a situation and properly execute a search without putting the defendants personal property at risk.

The state of the properties in question were reportedly so bad as a result of the search that the ACCS’s May De Silva felt that she had to do everything in her power to ensure that a court mandated house visit by the defendants did not move forward. The excuse given was that the ACCS did not have sufficient wherewithal to be able to secure the visit. What exactly that means remains completely unclear as neither defendant has presented a flight risk, and there are exactly zero security concerns with allowing a court mandated house visit.

A similar situation took place with Fahreen Rajan as well as her ex-husband whose properties were searched in a similar manner as a means of coercing them into collaboration. Entering the property without the required court warrant, and overall acting like a mafia henchman who is above the law and employs intimidation tactics, the house was searched in a way unbecoming of even the most rogue of investigators. Who knows how many others have already been victims of Humphrey’s despicable and unprofessional behaviour.

Although outside of the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom and working in the private sector, the UK Minister of State for Crime and Policing Chris Philp as well as the Minister of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs James Cleverly should be extremely concerned. If former members of the police and armed forces are pimping out their services, which they acquired during their time in the police or military, as mercenaries for despotic governments, then there is a severe problem which needs to be taken care of.

Of course there are extremely important regulations in place regarding the export of both weapons, software and technology as well as military and police know how. These regulations are in place by the Export Control Joint Unit and the Department for International Trade in order to prevent exactly these kinds of situations, namely citizens with access to dual use goods or skills which could be leveraged to support autocratic regimes selling these on to the highest bidder without any regard for the impact on human rights. It is the responsibility of the UK Government to both oversee what citizens they trained are doing with their knowledge and even more so in this pertains to a commonwealth country.

It begins with house searches, profiteering and looting and ends with people like Kremlin puppet Yevgeny Prigozhin and his Wagner Group peddling mercenaries who murder women and children. Although Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan’s direct link to the Kremlin has already been established, some still had hope that at least ACCS investigators would act in a way that is befitting of their title. It’s time somebody in the newly formed UK government take a stand and speak out.

Categories
Economy Justice Politics

True Justice Demands Neutrality

Principled judges are extremely hard to come by these days. Although the expectation is that those who run the justice system, and are responsible for dealing out justice, will only be guided by the truth, that is unfortunately not always the case. One need not look any further than the ongoing miscarriage of justice in the Seychelles, where the country’s courts have been co-opted by the political ruling class and exploited for promoting political agendas.

Sometimes though, even in the most corrupt of justice systems, one can be positively surprised. In the case of Seychelles this was seen with former Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey, who decided to step down from her position in 2020 after only one five-year term. Although she committed to step down after one term before she took on the position, her passionate speech before departing office about judicial independence and the courage required to exercise true independence was an obvious reference to the reasons she didn’t feel she could continue serving in her position regardless. Discussing issues like lack of rule of law and the need to address “outdated, unreformed laws” were similarly instructive.

It would appear however that a similar situation is repeating itself today in the Seychelles justice system, with Attorney General Frank Ally, who has served in his position since 2017, deciding to step down recently. Although the reasoning being given is that this is due to an unfortunate illness being faced by his son who requires surgery, the question being asked by everyone is to what extent this is the actual reason he is stepping down. Of course family illness is a terrible thing and must be a priority. However how much did this actually play a role in encouraging the attorney general that he could no longer fulfil his position? Or perhaps was this a decision that was inspired by the way in which the justice system operates, and a decision that as a principal jurist, he no longer wants to be directly associated with a system so heavily influenced by an authoritarian government.

Interestingly, sources close to the matter have informed Seychelles Watch that it will be British barrister, Steven Powles KC, who will be assuming the position in the immediate term. Aside from the fact that it is an unprecedented choice to outsource one’s attorney general position to a foreigner from the private sector, the fact is that Powles has been prosecuting one of the most high-level cases the country has ever seen on behalf of the government. And while the position of attorney general also includes being responsible for overseeing cases being prosecuted on behalf of the government, additional responsibilities include representing the public’s interest and handling criminal appeals. How one might be able to, on the one hand, prosecute a high-level nationally covered case and on the other hand be entrusted with such serious oversight responsibilities, which are more likely than not to conflict with the case itself, remains unclear.

If one would like to understand why Powles, on a professional level, is unfits to fill the position, one need look no further then past defendants which he has represented. Although designated as an international criminal lawyer, his clients have been some of the worst criminals the international community has known. This has included Isak Musliu, accused of engaging in severe human rights abuses and tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes committed in Kosovo, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone accused of rape, sexual slavery as well as chopping villagers’ hands off, along with corrupt politicians the likes of which have included Italian playboy Silvio Berlusconi.

The reasons why such an individual is both not fit to serve as attorney general and is not impartial enough to do so are quite clear. The real question is why the government of President Wavel Ramkalawan does not see it the same way. Time will tell if the government will choose to reverse this quite absurd appointment, but for the time being it continues to be more and more apparent why principled jurists, such as Mathilda Twomey and Frank Ally, chose to put their involvement in the Seychellois justice system in their past.

Categories
Economy Indian Ocean Politics

There Is No Such Thing As “Legal Rights” In Today’s Seychelles

The right of a defendant to legal representation is one of the most basic aspects of international justice. No matter how horrific the crime, every person accused of committing a crime is entitled to having their case heard with the help of an attorney in a court of law. This seems to be true everywhere but in Seychelles, where the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACCS), under the leadership of May De Silva, has been denying the Valabhji couple, defendants in the case sinisterly named “Operation Black Iron” their right to legal representation.

Of course, the ACCS, and the foreign lawyers which they have employed throughout the course of the trial, such as barristers Michael Skelley & Ed Vickers of London’s Red Lion Chambers, are far too proficient in the technical aspects of the law to directly deny defendants legal representation. Especially in a trial that has been so heavily covered in the international press. Rather they have come up with an intelligent way of doing so while maintaining an airs of innocence.

What they have done is simply make it impossible for the defendants to afford to pay their lawyers. This is by tying up and obstructing access to funds and determining where the defendants might and might not be able to pay their representation from. As committed as they are to the case, lawyers cannot be expected to work for free and their time can be quite expensive especially when dealing with high level cases such as these. The ACCS know this and have been taking advantage of this fact, forcing defendants to let their international representation go and needing to rely, of late, on local lawyers only recently brought into the case.

Of course this is the perfect move for a government which would like to brand itself as a democracy. The government of Wavel Ramkalawan wants to be seen as a democratizing force for the greater good, despite the gross mismanagement of the economy, destruction of the welfare state, out of control costs, rampant government corruption and spiralling violent crime. And locking up political enemies as well as blocking their ability to defend themselves adequately in court does not sit well with the notion of democracy in any way, shape or form.

The ability to highlight this in the press is probably the last chance at impacting government decisions such as these and encouraging them to consider reversing course. That is of course until the government gets down to restricting press freedom as well. It is difficult to tell what direction political prosecution will next take in Wavel Ramkalawan’s Seychelles.

Categories
Justice Politics Transparency

Reflections on The President’s Most Recent Address to the Nation

President Ramkalawan’s recent address to the nation, delivered on October 20th, was one of his most daring. Facing one of the toughest years of his political career, with the country undergoing a cost-of-living crisis, increasing crime, and facing severe domestic criticism surrounding the country’s ongoing politically motivated trial, his speech was an obvious attempt at deflecting criticism.

His first all too obvious attempt at doing this was seen through his promise to raise salaries. Although marketed as an attempt to address his own government’s failures to combat spiralling prices, this strategic decision was obviously aimed at the addressing criticism surrounding severe instances of corruption discovered in his cabinet. Most recently this even included the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Ronny Govinden, who was accused of acquiring properties below market value and selling them at extreme profits.

Raising salaries in a country suffering from flawed economic policy as well as corruption is not an adequate solution. It is the direct equivalent of throwing a bone to the people while the President and his cronies enjoy steak. Thinking that people would not see through this very obvious attempt at silencing critics is both naive and insulting.

A similar attempt has been made throughout the course of the legal case over the allegedly missing USD 50 million. The trial has seen any and all attempts at silencing the defense, including going so far as violating their human rights and overriding their right to due process. The government, understanding that it is under the constant supervision of human rights organisations and even the European Union, which funds much of its efforts, has paid lip service to these issues in a similar way. One thing unsurprisingly not mentioned by Ramkalawan is that the current vice president Ahmed Afif has remained free despite being deeply implicated in the case, from back when he was working for the Ministry of Finance in 2002.

Lip service, however, is insufficient when it comes to upholding the integrity of the country’s legal system. Consistently reiterating ones commitment to rule of law does not make a country a democracy, just like raising salaries nationally not take a country out of economic crisis. All that actually matters are results, and the outcome of concrete government actions to date do not make anyone optimistic.

Categories
Economy Justice Politics

Ramkalawan’s Government Steps on CJ’s Toes, Defies Court Order

Recent developments in the prosecution trial against Mukesh and Laura Valabhji have quite a few people concerned. It appears that the government is, yet again, working to cover up its own illegal activities. The case of the 50 million never ceases to surprise, and has included, so far, allegations of government corruption, human rights violations and absolutely no respect for the rule of law.

Most recently, the Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronny Govinden ordered that a visit to the Valabhji’s property be allowed. It is indeed not standard procedure to prevent access to a defendant’s property, no matter how high level the trial in question is. It appears that despite the court order given by the Chief Justice, the government thought it appropriate to intervene and to deny access to the property.

Why this happened is not entirely clear. Of course the government has not rejected the request outright. They are too cunning for that. Instead, it has delayed the visit under the pretext that the government cannot provide adequate security arrangements for the couple to visit the premises. What security arrangements exactly may be necessary remain unclear. Neither defendant is a flight risk and both have been extremely cooperative in this political show trial. A simple police escort to facilitate the visit would be sufficient according to all professional estimations.

More likely than not the government is looking to cover up something far more concerning, namely, that they have not managed to successfully protect the property of the defendants. The expectation is that the house has been ransacked by either the police or the government, with everything valuable probably stolen. It is also possible that the house currently has squatters or is in such a state of disrepair that anybody who sees it would be shocked. It is in cases like this where the government decides to intervene, defying a court order and delaying the visit in question indefinitely.

Although President Ramkalawan and Chief Justice Govinden have been reported to be cooperating on the case, briefing each other throughout the course of the trial and making use of each other’s respective powers to continue the witch hunt, in this case, the government has gone too far even for the court’s taste. How the court will respond remains unclear but what is certain is that in any law abiding democracy the government must respect rulings by the justice system. Perhaps enough pressure will encourage journalists to look into the state of the house and see what exactly it is the government is trying to cover up.

Categories
Indian Ocean Politics Transparency

Wavel Ramkalawan Staffs His Military With Loyalists

There are some things that no longer come as a surprise to anyone. One of those is the ability of those in power to do everything and anything possible to cling to power. Such was the case with the recent appointment of the former Commander of the Seychelles Coast Guard, Colonel Jean Attala, as the new Chief of Staff of the Seychelles People’s Defence Force (SPDF).

Despite the fact that its name suggests that its purpose is to protect the interests of the people, President Wavel Ramkalawan has once again proven that the sole purpose of the military is to uphold his own personal interests. The long history of the Seychelles with political instability, means that the most important component of staying in power is ensuring a loyal military. And that is exactly what the President has done, filling the most senior ranks of the armed forces with loyalists.

This appointment follows a recent constitutional amendment according to which the government extended the powers of the military to domestic operations in times of peace. This constitutional amendment was decried by human rights organizations the world over, as well as by the country’s own Ombudsman, Bar Association and by the Seychelles Human Rights Commission who went so far as to take the issue to court in September, challenging the constitutionality of the proposed change. In this regard, they said in a joint press communiqué that the organisations assert their shared concerns that the change, known as the Tenth Amendment ,“undermines the democratic protections afforded by the Constitution, in particular due process, the rule of law and human rights”.

The direction which the country is going in is most concerning. Struggling for democracy after overcoming the rule of longtime strong man France-Albert René who ruled from 1977 till 2004, the gradual but certain process of democratic backsliding appears to only be worsening. The ongoing heavily covered trial surrounding 50 million dollars, and reported extensive human rights violations taking place against defendants, is a clear indication of the way in which business is conducted by the government. These individual actions, coupled with insidious Russian influence that appears to be continuously increasing, should only make us more concerned, particularly in light of the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Do not be fooled. This is not a case of the boy crying wolf. The chance for Seychelles to degenerate into an autocratic government stuck in the stranglehold of Wavel Ramkalawan is very real. Without real change that is encouraged by international pressure, it is unreasonable to assume that things will get anything but worse.

Categories
Economy Politics Uncategorized

Development Challenges on the Horizon for the New UK Prime Minister

Building and maintaining global relationships, especially for the purposes of international development, is something the United Kingdom prides itself on. The UK has a history of providing aid to countries around the world, but also in facilitating capacity building and providing support for governments that lack the resources to develop themselves. The UK’s new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, will have to ensure that their foreign policy agenda is selective when it comes to developing relationships.

The balance of global regimes is shifting towards autocracy. The last year marked the lowest levels of international democracy seen in thirty years, and it seems unlikely to be an outlier. With this trend, an increasing number of countries in the developing world are heading in the direction of autocratic governance that veer away from democratic ideals. The risks of establishing and strengthening relationships with these countries, however, are high. Not only does it strengthen the regime’s hold on their countries to gain official support and recognition, but being associated with countries that are undemocratic also damages the UK’s reputation. In the interest of facilitating the spread of democracy as well as reputational self-interest, the UK’s new Prime Minister must ensure that the relationships they choose to develop cannot be exploited or manipulated into a political risk.

Former Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, Liz Truss’s appointment at the start of the month to the highest office in the UK and her experience with foreign affairs only underscores this international development angle. Her stance so far on the United Kingdom’s foreign policy has been to build a “network of liberty” with allies around the world who will work together to fight for and support democracy. Her aggressive stance on foreign policy and her desire for a “perpetual Brexit” are cornerstones to her international agenda, and with the power of the Prime Minster’s office, she is likely to turn her focus to developing and fortifying this network.

Her international development agenda also leaves a lot to be desired, with many charities criticising it as a missed opportunity and as a “neo-colonial approach to aid spending”. International aid distribution is already an important issue, with countries like the Seychelles and Rwanda providing case studies of the possible shortfalls of this type of relationship-building. The government of the Seychelles is undergoing a negative transformation with the leadership of President Wavel Ramkalawan. Elected in 2020 on a platform of cleaning up corruption and drugs, Ramkalawan had been heralded as a wave of change for the small island nation. The President’s landmark action so far has been a national corruption trial to persecute those responsible for the alleged embezzling of part of $50 million worth of aid money. The instigation of this trial set new expectations with the international community that under this government, Seychelles will move towards greater economic strength and become a safe and secure destination for aid and foreign direct investments.

As this trial progresses, however, aspects of it from prisoner treatment to the credibility of evidence are showing a different side to Ramkalawan’s government. Complaints about prisoner treatment from those detained by the government revealed that their detention facilities did not meet human rights standards, and only after the Seychelles Human Rights Commission investigated did the government promise to make changes. The Seychelles constitution was amended after the corruption trial began, in order to expand the government’s power to conduct the trial in the style they wanted. The anti-corruption body in the Seychelles has been accused of intimidation by the defence lawyers, and the detainees were placed on no-fly lists despite posing minimal security risks. Several detainees have also consistently been denied bail, despite the government admitting that concrete evidence in their cases is lacking. While all of this continues to take place, the European Union is providing €300,000 for an anti-corruption project in Seychelles, intended to build capacity with technical aid and national awareness.

The other case is Rwanda, the poster child for international development projects. It is a clean, organised and efficient state, transformed from a country disfigured by genocide to one of the most orderly in Africa, all under the helm of President Paul Kagame, who receives endless praise from Western leaders for his incredible successes. Economically, the country is strong, and international aid is well invested with a visible impact. His regime and governance style, however, are clearly autocratic. He shuffles his security team constantly so as not to allow a military coup; he has advisors beaten over disagreements; his current term lasts until 2034, and he may change the constitution again to further extend it. With so much evidence of the improvements he has made, however, President Kagame remains a respected and well-liked leader in the international community.

It is clear to see that the firm governance of leaders like Ramkalawan and Kagame, coupled with aid funding, has allowed these countries to transform. This governance, however, comes at a cost and national leaders cannot continue to ignore that. The risk of developing relationships with autocratic countries is that as the economy improves, the leader’s credibility amongst his people increases and his international legitimacy grows. This reinforces his belief in his actions and expands his ability to act as he sees fit without repercussions.

The new Prime Minister of the United Kingdom plays a crucial role not only in the future of the UK, but also in the future development of the global south. Developing and establishing international relationships is a difficult and intricate task, and must be done with the utmost care. Economic development is not the only hallmark of growth and prosperity for a country – social issues, equality and human rights are all equally important. The pursuit of economic growth and democracy cannot come at the expense of human rights, and the UK has a duty as an international leader to ensure it plays no part in encouraging or supporting leaders that do not share these values.

Categories
Justice Politics Uncategorized

Ronny Govinden Continues To Enrich Himself At Everyone’s Expense

Corruption in countries like the Seychelles has become something which people unfortunately accept as a given. When there is little oversight, those that are in power take advantage. That doesn’t make it okay but it is expected. What people don’t anticipate is the extent to which those in power will go in order to shamelessly promote their own interests at the peoples’ expense.

Such was the case in a recent expose published by The People, according to which Chief Justice of the Seychelles Supreme Court Ronny Govinden, took advantage of his position of power and proximity to the Seychelles leadership in order to acquire for himself a property portfolio unrivalled by many in the country.

At first glance there is nothing wrong with acquiring properties. If you have the money and would like to invest in an extensive property portfolio, then of course it is your right. A problem arises however, when the price paid for the property is significantly below market value, raising questions regarding the conditions under which it is acquired.

Accusations have been levied according to which a series of parcels of government land were acquired by the Chief Justice at below market costs. Most recent was piece of government land (H8312) measuring 995 square meters that was acquired on April 6th 2022. Unlike the other land, which he reportedly procured on questionable terms, this parcel saw records leaked pointing fingers directly at the current government of Wavel Ramkalawan. It is important to remember that Ronny Govinden, over the course of the past more than a decade has always been in an official position of power in the Seychellois justice system, currently a Chief Justice and previously as Chief Prosecutor and Attorney. One might expect a member of the judiciary to hold himself to higher standards, however this does not appear to be the case with Ronny Govinden.

The corruption in relation to this most recent acquisition is all too apparent, having paid only SR 122,800 for a plot easily valued at SR1.2 million. It looks like the position of Chief Justice comes with the added benefit of being able to purchase state land at 1/10 of the price. Had he kept the land for himself and built a home we might have been able to excuse this and look the other way. A man who gave his whole life to the justice system may be entitled to certain benefits although it’s not clear why buying multiple parcels of land would be necessary.

Govinden’s greed unfortunately knows no boundaries and prior to his acquisition of the most recent piece of land in April of this year, the Chief Justice sold all of his shares in his other properties to his former spouse for SR4.5 million. This means not only did he acquire land at an undervalued price in his capacity as an official of state, something which very obviously screams corruption, but he also enriched himself with the help of these properties.

The Minister for Lands & Housing, Billy Rangasamy, has been providing excuses for Ronny Govinden, saying that the sale of the land at far below market-price was approved on “compassionate grounds”. Specifically, this was due to Ronny Govinden’s sale of all his previous land to his ex-wife following their divorce. However, getting divorced and subsequent sympathy is not a good enough reason to approve the sale of government land to a public servant at such a discount, especially considering his ownership of quite a few other properties which he similarly purchased at below market terms.

If the government will do anything to concretely address this corruption is doubtful. This is simply one of surely many cases of corruption that was uncovered by investigative journalists. If anything, we can anticipate that this expose will simply encourage those in power to cover their tracks better. Regardless, we will continue to investigate and expose such instances of corruption because without clean and trustworthy government, the future of any country is doomed.

Categories
Economy Politics Uncategorized

Colonial Legacies Continue To Build The Modern British State

The nostalgia with which many reflect on Britain’s colonial legacies is not surprising. Tony Blair famously stated in a 1997 speech, “I value and honour our history enormously,” and that the country’s history of empire should be the cause of “neither apology nor hand-wringing”. The post-Brexit world has only encouraged this sentiment, which seeks to reinvigorate the spirit which once allowed Britain to rule more than half the world.

Although the empire that is seen by many as a product of the British state, an often overlooked aspect of Britain’s successful domination of the globe is the role of laissez-faire capitalism, outsourcing and public-private partnerships. The most well-known of these in the British context was the English East India Company, which by 1800 commanded a force larger than that of England. Ruling approximately one fifth of the world, philosopher Edmund Burke famously referred to this as, “a state in the disguise of a merchant”.

While Britain continues to focus on its post-colonial narrative, tearing down or renaming close to 70 statues of slave traders and colonialists across the country, colonialism in a different guise perseveres. Identified quite accurately as an, “incomplete process of British decolonisation” by University of London law lecturer Kojo Koram when discussing his new book, ‘Uncommon Wealth: Britain and The Aftermath of Empire’, Koram expressed how colonialism continues to inform both symbolic issues, such as monuments in public spaces, as well as more practical concerns.

Building an empire was after all, in its essences, a material project aimed at extracting resources and supporting the Empire’s foreign policy concerns. In this regard, not only is decolonization incomplete, it is being promoted in a different guise in ostensibly now independent locales employing private public partnerships. This can be seen quite prominently in the Seychelles Islands, in the role that British Queen’s Counsels have been playing in the country’s justice system.

Only becoming an independent republic within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1976, the Seychelles has remained particularly reliant on its former colonial overlords. This has become especially apparent throughout the course of an ongoing, and extremely questionable corruption trial, which has been functionally led in its entirety by British barristers and investigators. Employing KC’s Steven Powles and Edmund Vickers to lead the prosecution, the two have been responsible for overseeing the prosecution of nine arrested for a mix of allegations. Patrick Humphrey a former British police officer was tasked with leading the investigative side of the case.

Despite the involvement of internationally recognized criminal lawyers with an expertise in human rights, allegations of human rights violations have run rife. Concerns have been raised regarding impartiality, intimidation tactics have been leveraged against the defense and unconventional legal mechanisms, such as changing laws ex post facto to facilitate retroactive prosecution have been employed. All this, coupled with accusations that the case is essentially a politically motivated one, used by the incumbent President Wavel Ramkalawan to rid the country of supporters of the former government has raised more than a few alarms.

One would expect a seasoned former police officer as senior as Humphrey to ask more than a few questions regarding the methods employed to investigate the case as well as the nature of evidence found. This has included weapons, which to date cannot be conclusively tied to the suspects having any wrongdoing. Shockingly, British High Commissioner Patrick Lynch has not expressed any concern over the involvement of British lawyers in the case. This is despite regular comments by the High Commissioner commending UK-Seychellois cooperation on issues like police reform and tackling serious crime.

EU Ambassador Vincent Degert has similarly been noticeably silent. This is despite the instrumental role which the EU has played in funding ACCS anti-corruption efforts, and the role which EU ambassadors are expected to play in ensuring things such as freedom of the press and human rights. This is even more the case when EU funding is being directly allocated towards state bodies that act in stark contravention of international human rights standards.

Although their focus should be on addressing issues of democratic backsliding, these international experts have been recruited to the government’s ranks to lead the prosecution. Naturally, the support of international professionals are instrumental for establishing the legitimacy needed for the ongoing miscarriage of justice to go on unimpeded. When such actions are placed within the context of colonial history, it becomes apparent that they are in good company.

Colonial lawyers played a central role in propping up despotic local regimes that were deemed friendly to British foreign interests in the days of the Empire. Take the story of Sir Frank Clement Offley Beaman as a prime example. Educated at The Queen’s College, Oxford, he became a judicial advisor to the Indian Civil Service in 1879 working his way up over the course of the subsequent 28 years to High Court Judge, a position to which he was appointed in 1907. His position attained was a product of the relationship he established with the local government and the way in which he used legal tools in support of both the caste system and opposing women’s emancipation.

A similar example is evident in the case of Mr Dinsha Davar. A London educated barrister, Davar was a member of the same Middle Temple Inn of Court as Mr Powles and Mr Vickers, an Inn which seems to have a sordid history of members supporting neo-colonial endeavors. Davar saw the opportunity to be appointed a high court judge and having become close with the Maharaja of Baroda State, Sayajirao Gaekwad III, fervently employed the law to fight political enemies of the Maharaja, famously sentencing Indian nationalist and anti-colonial activist Bal Gangadhar Tilak to six years of hard labour.

It is unclear if the motivation of Mr Powles, Mr Vickers and Mr Humphrey are monetary, securing longer term local positions of power, as is widely (albeit controversially) practiced to this day in former colonies such as Hong Kong, or a combination of the two. Irrespective of their personal interest, British colonial legacies continue to shape the future of the Seychelles justice system and not for the better. A state in the grips of neo-colonialism can never be the master of its own destiny.

Categories
Justice Politics Transparency Uncategorized

Seychelles’s House of Cards is Beginning to Crumble

Factual errors continue to riddle one of the most high-profile cases Seychelles has ever seen. In an exclusive report, on the basis of confidential information overheard in the halls of the Seychelles Ministry of Justice in Victoria, more questions are unfortunately raised than answer. One thing is certain however, and that is that the prosecution in the case of the “missing 50 million US dollars” have not been completely upfront with the public, and their own evidence proves it.

For those unfamiliar, the saga begins with 50 million dollars donated by the government of the United Arab Emirates to Seychelles at a time when it was struggling to keep on the lights. Faced with a financial crisis in 2002, the money was meant to help pay outstanding balances to major creditors. In a surprising twist, allegations were raised that the funds were misappropriated; several government investigations occurred over the years, but no arrests were made until after the election of Wavel Ramkalawan in 2020, alongside his Vice President Ahmed Afif who himself had been previously implicated in having a role in the money’s disappearance. However, it’s important to note that all previous investigations did not point fingers to any of the current accused or held that there was no evidence the money was mishandled; Ahmed Afif has not been one of the nine Seychellois arrested.

As one of his first acts in office, President Wavel Ramkalawan decided to arrest nine people whom he and those leading the prosecution, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles, decided had misappropriated the money. The entire case had been premised on the fact that the funds, which were held in an account belonging to a government entity, the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB), at the Bank of Baroda in London were allegedly transferred out to unknown accounts & subsequently pilfered, either through unauthorized expenses or someone stealing the money.

Now, personal accounts which have been exclusively obtained and whose authenticity have been corroborated beyond a shadow of a doubt, paint a picture which is significantly different. As was noted, the donation was meant to assist Seychelles in purchasing food, paying for electricity as well as making payments to creditors who were owed money.

According to insider information conveyed by concerned citizens working at the Ministry of Justice, who were able to provide confirmation that documents they had seen, including the financial evidence discovered by the ACCS, indicated that funds were not embezzled or misused. Rather, for example, on the 24 October 2002 a transfer of $6 million dollars was initiated to the Dutch Bank ABN AMRO. Cross referencing communications obtained by the ACCS between the late President France Albert Rene, who requested the donation, with His Highness of the UAE Sheikh Khalifa, who provided the funding, shows that President Rene listed debts at ABN AMRO as part of the usage that was going to be made of the donation; our insiders have also corroborated this.

Another clear example of funds that, despite allegations, were not misappropriated, was a $5 million dollar payment to the Malaysian petroleum company Petronas. Again, if we were to cross reference the initial request for funds from the former President Rene to the leadership of the UAE with the transfer initiated, we would find that this was actually described as one of the reasons the initial donation was needed, making the payment completely legal and within the scope of what the donated monies were meant to be used for.

Information from government sources have also given indication that proof has been found that the funds were actually transferred to the SMB’s own declared accounts, all known to the Seychelles government. For instance, 15 October 2002 saw $6.8 million dollars transferred to Nouvobanq, where we know from the publicly available COSPROH report that the SMB had a number of accounts which were routinely used for government business, including the repayment of creditors & debts. Quite simply, it seems like a lion’s share of the financial evidence obtained by the ACCS actually works against the Seychelles government’s case.

The government and prosecutors know this and, according to confidential conversations had, they have been panicking for some time. Although some of the defendants have been coerced into cooperation and made bail and others have had their charges dropped, others have been held for months on end in conditions that don’t comply with any legal system. International lawyers already filed complaints of intimidation and human rights violations, all of which have been ignored by the government. But filing a case which has been ongoing for 9 months on the basis of accusations which, quite frankly, are inaccurate is a severe problem and can bring this entire house of cards tumbling down.

Lies are like cockroaches; for every one you find, there are many many more hidden. The last thing this case can afford is any more lies coming to light. The government and prosecution can be sure they will. People are becoming more and more concerned with the absurd miscarriage of justice and political trial currently taking place in Seychelles. The time to put an end to this is now.

Categories
Indian Ocean Justice Politics Transparency

No Fairness Before the Courts in Seychelles

The greatest threat to democracy is a government that fails to protect its citizen’s freedom and liberty as aggressively as it pursues justice.

As the legal case against the group that has come to be known as the “Seychelles 9” proceeds, more questions appear to be presenting themselves than answers. As a reminder, the case involves nine Seychellois arrested between November of last year and January of this year on a mix of charges reported to be trumped up. The targets of Wavel Ramkalawan’s government crackdown are all known to have been associated with the government of former President Rene. This has included former ministers, military officers, senior advisors as well as family members of the island’s former President. 

People following the intricacies of the case are already familiar with the range of problematic issues which have been apparent. These have included violations of the defendants’ human rights, withholding legal representation and the government doing everything in its power, including employing intimidation tactics, to scare off the defendants’ international lawyers. The involvement of terrorism and weapons charges in the case raised eyebrows even further, leading the government to bring in external “experts” who have yet to corroborate their claims. 

The case’s latest development has included two of the justices on the case, the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Anthony Fernando and Justice Samia Andre recusing themselves from the bail hearing of one of the defendants, Laura Valabhji. In reference to the case against her it had been claimed that “there is simply not one jot, one iota, one piece of evidence that directly implicates Laura Valabhji in this alleged offence”. Lack of evidence has not swayed the courts, who have to date refused Mrs. Valabhji’s application for bail. It was most probably this lack of evidence and insistence on prosecuting a seemingly innocent woman that led to the justices recusing themselves. Coincidentally, inside sources indicated to Seychelles Watch that these were the justices rumoured to be most sympathetic to Mrs. Valabhji’s bail application and improving her conditions. 

The recusal should be seen in the context of vast government interference which we have seen throughout the course of the trial. Considering their staunch commitment to justice, it is hard to be believe that the justices, including the President of the court, would recuse themselves when such a severe miscarriage of justice was being perpetrated. Rather, it is clear to those familiar with the inner working of the Seychelles justice system under Wavel Ramkalawan, that this recusal must have been forced by government as a means of ensuring Mrs. Valabhji stays incarcerated despite legitimate grounds for bail. Keeping her incommunicado and separated from her husband is the only way to ensure that whatever ulterior motive lies behind the arrest is not exposed. These considerations have also been what has supported the court’s decision to not allow unsupervised visits between the Valabhji couple, as well as with their attorneys, meetings which must be held in private in order to plan their defence. 

This resignation has been coupled with continued unexplained delays in Mrs. Valabhji’s next bail hearing, which according to a recent announcement will be held during its August session, nine months after her arrest in December 2021. The excuse given, alongside the recusal of the justices, is that Justice Dr Mathilda Twomey and Justice Lillian Tibatemwa-Ekirikubinza are currently abroad, with only Justice Fiona Robinson available for the hearing. Three justices are required for a bail hearing. 

Mrs. Valabhji on the other hand has pleaded to hold her bail hearing sooner rather than later. Aside from her immediate interest in finally being released to house arrest and being held in humane conditions, Mrs. Valabhji has made it clear that it is uncertain that she will have access to legal representation in August, as she is represented by international council. A defendant having adequate access to legal representation would appear to be a sufficient reason to consider her request, which was denied. 

These peculiar decisions regarding the bail hearing are coupled with further inconsistencies and questionable decisions that have been made by the court time and time again. Chief Justice Ronny Govinden recently imposed an arbitrary (and illegal) limit on Mrs. Valabhji’s legal representation. Only last week he refused to admit the defendant’s third lawyer, with his justification being, according to witnesses in the court, that the defendant already had two lawyers. The Seychellois legal system does not impose limitations on the amount of lawyers a defendant may employ. 

The lack of fairness before the courts in Seychelles has been evident throughout the course of the trial. As time progresses, the extent to which this problem plagues the highest courts in the land has become apparent. And as the adage goes, “There is no greater threat to a free and democratic nation than a government that fails to protect its citizen’s freedom and liberty as aggressively as it pursues justice”. 

Categories
Econonmy Indian Ocean Justice Transparency

Without Principled Jurists, There is Little Reason for Optimism for Justice in the Seychelles

Justice Mathilda Twomey of Seychelles was considered one of the greatest legal minds the Seychelles had ever known, appointed to the position of Chief Justice in August of 2015 based on the unanimous recommendation of the Constitutional Appointments Authority. She had previously served as non-resident judge of the Court of Appeal where she began in March 2011 as the first female judge in the country’s history. Mrs Twomey also had an impressive legal career prior, including both in the private sector as well as in academia. Her commitment to justice and human rights led to her being the first the first Seychellois, and only one of fifteen people globally, to be awarded the prestigious Franco-German Human Rights Prize. It was her commitment to human rights that would ultimately prove to be her greatest challenge. 

Upon accepting her position as Chief Justice, Mrs Twomey made her acceptance contingent on a limited 5-year term. This was the case, in her words, “because I believe that long periods of service, particularly in positions of leadership and power, are a key way in which a public servant forgets their mandate and loses their vigour, and the role becomes less about the noble office, but the individual that holds it.” She was not wrong to believe that lifetime appointments are a recipe for nepotism and corruption, with the majority of judges polled in a 2020 survey opposing lifetime appointments for exactly that reason. 

What has yet to be reported is that discussions were actually already underway to extend her term, had Danny Faure, and incumbent United Seychelles, won the 2020 election. Throughout her career, Mrs Twomey’s commitment has been above all to two central issues, the protection of human rights and combatting corruption. As she stated prior to her departure, in a not so subtle message to the yet to be elected (at the time) Wavel Ramkalawan, “We need to hold people to account – even when they are well loved, or wealthy or powerful.”

In her farewell prior to her departure, Mrs Twomey also highlighted a number of areas that required attention in the Seychelles justice system. The two principles most pertinent among these included constitutionalism which ensures that, “the rule of law is upheld, where fundamental human rights and freedoms of all are valued, and where accountability and transparency are the norm, and not the exception”. She also discussed accountability where, “each person needs to play their part despite the risks”.

Having such a principled crusader against corruption would have certainly proved to be extremely inconvenient for an administration as full of corruption as that of Wavel Ramkalawan’s. Similarly problematic would have been Mrs Twomey’s commitment to human rights. Ramkalawn’s government therefore saw her eventually replaced with a strategic appointment to the Supreme Court, current Chief Justice Ronny Govinden, who has been orchestrating, on the government’s behalf a politically motivated trial against 9 defendants arrested at the end of last year. Govinden is a known lackey of the President, even reporting to him on a weekly basis during informal updates which take place outside of business hours over the weekend. Govinden in turn, has continued to prove his loyalty to the President, updating him throughout the course of the trial and advancing legislation which might play in the government’s favor. 

The case has seen extensive corruption, miscarriages of justice and the violation of defendants most basic human rights. Govinden was appointed to the position a mere month after Ramkalawan was elected and has seen this case as his trial by fire. Successfully ridding the country of the President’s political enemies, alongside a second Ramkalawan term, would certainly see Govinden progressing to even more powerful political positions. 

Mrs Twomey understood that despite her best efforts to create a justice system whose sole focus was justice, circumstance, along with the individuals involved with the justice system would make that impossible. One such example was lead investigator in the case, Patrick Humphrey. A former British detective and one of the leads on training local investigators, Humphrey became close to Twomey and tried to abuse that friendship to get information on the case’s progress. Incidentally it was exactly around this time that Twomey participated in an interview for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), where she highlighted in relation to legal proceedings, the need “to ensure that the process is not susceptible to abuse or undue influence”. 

In her farewell speech, Twomey, despite again emphasizing her previous commitment to step down after 5 years, alluded to the true reason behind her departure. She stated, “Turning a blind eye to petty corruption, tardy behavior, lack of transparency and accountability delegitimizes our institution. We need to stride towards achieving human rights and not dismantle what has been built. Our judges need to be brave and act justly all the time.” 

Her decision to move down to the Court of Appeal was a brave one that not many would take. Feeling that her ability to positively impact the country’s justice system would be better served by working on a court that was less politicized could not have been more true. Sadly, since her departure, the Supreme Court has only become more and more politically manipulated. Legal procedure has been thrown out the window, defendants held without bail for months on end in appalling conditions, while the government works with the court hand in hand to change laws such that they serve their own agenda. 

Lack of rule of law has also seen the passing of constitutional amendments supporting the government’s authoritarian tendencies, such as a recent amendment which saw the military allowing the military to operate in domestic matters outside states of emergency. Concerns were raised at the highest levels of government, including by Ombudsman, Nichole Tirant-Ghérardi who said, “The spectre of members of the defence forces maintaining law and order or running any essential service in the country on a permanent or semi-permanent basis does not sit well with that notion of democracy”. 
Without principled jurists like Mathilda Twomey leading the country’s courts, unfortunately, the future of the Seychelles justice system is not encouraging. The last available World Economic Forum ranking for the country isn’t very optimistic, placing the Seychelles justice system in 63rd place, after countries where corruption in the justice system is public knowledge, including South Africa, Tajikistan and Azerbaijan. The ranking also identified the trend as headed in a negative direction. Only time will tell how accurate that prediction will prove to be, however, if the ongoing corruption trial in the Seychelles is any indication, there isn’t much reason for optimism.

Categories
Indian Ocean Transparency

The Times: English Barristers Criticised over Seychelles ‘Show Trial’

Senior London barristers allege that due process has been breached in the Seychelles
Senior London barristers allege that due process has been breached in the Seychelles

Senior London barristers are embroiled in a row over “a politically motivated prosecution” that has allegedly breached due process in the Seychelles.

The family of two defendants who are accused of corruption and weapons charges on the Indian Ocean island have expressed “distress” that one of the prosecution lawyers is a QC from a prominent human rights chambers.

Stephen Powles QC, a tenant at Doughty Street, has been instructed by the Seychelles government jointly to lead the prosecution against nine defendants who are associated with or related to France Albert René, the country’s former resident, who died aged 83 in 2019.

René had stepped down in 2004, but his party remained in power until 2020, when it lost elections for the first time in 43 years to a party led by Wavel Ramkalawan, the present leader.

Powles is joined on the prosecution side by Edmund Vickers QC of Red Lion Chambers and two junior barristers from London sets. The defendants include Mukesh Valabhji and his wife, Laura. Valabhji, a former senior figure at the Seychelles Marketing Board, and his wife have been accused of conspiracy to launder money and possession of weapons. The pair deny all of the charges. Their lawyers, based in London at the law firm Kobre & Kim, claim that the authorities have committed “numerous abuses of procedure and of the defendants’ rights”. The lawyers allege that the pair have been unlawfully detained for six months and refused bail “without charge or trial, despite the defendants representing no threat or flight risk”. They claim that the Seychelles government retrospectively amended corruption laws to give the prosecution new powers. The legal team argues that the anti-corruption commission of the Seychelles (ACCS), a prosecution body, ultimately acknowledged that it lacked the authority to bring charges against the defendants. However, Jason Masimore, a partner at Kobre & Kim, says that the court “refused to dismiss the charges so that the government could pass new laws in favour of the ACCS”.

He adds: “This act of judicial overreach highlights concerns we have raised that there is no separation of powers between the judiciary and government.” He says that the “politically motivated show trial continues to lack any credible evidence of wrongdoing by the accused and contains a complete absence of due process”.

There are no suggestions that Powles and the other London lawyers acting for the prosecution have behaved unlawfully or unethically.

However, one close family member of the couple says: “We are in despair and matters are made worse for us as we see that the prosecution is receiving help from two leading QCs from highly respected London chambers, one of which has always had a stellar reputation in the field of human rights.”

The case is the latest in which English barristers have faced criticism for acting for overseas governments that have what some consider to be poor records on human rights.

While human rights in the former British colony are widely considered to have improved, there has been a history of abuses since the island gained independence in 1976.

Last year, David Perry QC, a tenant at 6KBW College Hill chambers, was criticised after he was instructed to prosecute pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong. The silk eventually withdrew from the case.

In September Dinah Rose QC of Blackstone Chambers who is also the president of Magdalen College at Oxford University, was criticised by an LGBT student group for acting for the government of the Cayman Islands as it defended its ban on gay marriage in a Privy Council case.

Before this month’s Commonwealth heads of government meeting, the Valabhjis’ legal team aims to raise the case with Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC, who is the Commonwealth secretary-general and a former Labour attorney-general. The Valabhjis’ lawyers say that they have already raised concerns with the British Foreign Office.

The Seychelles authorities did not respond to a request for comment. Powles declined to comment as the case was ongoing.

Republished from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/english-barristers-criticised-over-seychelles-show-trial-vvvq0ntgp written by Jonathan Ames