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Tales of Corruption and Illusions of Impunity

The saga that is the trial of Mukesh and Laura Valabhji continued in court on December 3rd, when the couple returned to court for a continued hearing on the status of their property. The property in question, Morne Blanc, continues to be under the detention of the police, with a court ruling issued on November 9th extending the detention by 60 days.

Objections were filed by the couple’s legal representation Ms. Samantha Aglae, who has expressed the couple‚Äôs discontent with the continued detained status of the property. The explanation provided has been less than adequate, with the police and the Seychelles Anti-Corruption Commission (ACCS) investigators claiming that further searches still need to be conducted, even though the Seychelles Police has been in custody of the property since 18 November 2021. Of course, one would think that any professional police force, including European funded and trained ACCS investigators under the guidance of former UK police officer Patrick Humphrey, should have been able to complete all required searches in less than 54 weeks.

And in fact, the Seychelles Police have already admitted that no further searches are ongoing at the property. Detective Sergeant Davis Simeon of the Seychelles Police admitted as much in his affidavit to the court dated 28 June 2022, in which he swore that the search of the Morne Blanc property had finished & that the premises were no longer considered a crime-scene. Why, after 5 months & a sworn affidavit from the Police that their work was finished, is the ACCS now claiming that investigative work on the physical premises is still ongoing? What are they hiding?

More concerning than the flip-flop on legal rationale is the fact that the couple have been denied access to even the most basic things, such as collecting their own personal effects. This has included things as innocent as food for pets as well a range of vehicles that require servicing to ensure their safe operation, all of which needless to say having no relation to the trial and have not been confiscated, nor has the government sought their seizure. The reason such basic things have been denied remains unclear, but speculation has it that more likely than not the property has been completely pillaged by the government.

A court ruling actually determined that the ACCS must indeed facilitate access, something which the police have continued to push off. The couple’s attorney has expressed concern that the state of the property is rapidly deteriorating, despite a court mandated order that obligates the police to care for the property’s maintenance. Furthermore there are assets which are not under detention which the police have been similarly blocking access to.

The protection of personal property is one of the most basic rights in a democracy, developing or established. Without this there can be no rule of law. Beyond the question of what is happening with the trial of the 50 million in Seychelles, the violation of the fundamental human right of the protection of personal property should be of concern to international human rights organisations, which have been monitoring the rapidly deteriorating state of affairs in the country very closely.

It should similarly be of concern to Ambassador Vincent Degert, the EU diplomat tasked with covering Seychelles. Although it has been reported that Degert is quite close with President Ramkalawan as well as UK barrister Steven Powles KC, there are scenarios in which friendship must take a backseat. And one of those scenarios is cases where fundamental human rights are being violated.

Property detention cannot be extended endlessly, and if the government would like to continue blocking access to the property it must explain and prove in a court the reason why this continues to be necessary. It must also provide adequate explanation as to why it has prevented access to properties that are not under detention and why the most basic of personal effects cannot be removed from a house which while under detention, is not currently being actively searched. Unless of course, as appears to be the case, police, in collaboration with the government are simply making use of this stranglehold over the Valabhji couple’s finances to extort an admission of guilt.

Perhaps however, the government was not informed of the fact that such behaviour is in essence extortion, a criminal offense in most democracies. In the faux democracy that is the Seychelles though, the government thinks it can continue to operate with endless impunity. President Ramkalawan and his allies are in for a rude awakening, as decision makers in the EU continue to deliberate the future of their relationship with the island nation. Even Seychelles is not outside the wide reach of international justice.

By Kate Flask

Kate Flask is an American freelance writer and digital nomad who studied creative writing in the UK. She has a personal and professional interest in East Africa and Indian Ocean Islands and Runs Seychelles Watch.

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