5 Seychelles’ prominent citizens, former first lady facing charges …in corruption scandal

Six of Seychelles’ most prominent citizens, including the former First Lady, are facing charges in a corruption scandal involving $50m (£37m) of missing foreign aid which has delighted some islanders but courted danger for others, as Patrick Muirhead reports.

They are Mukesh Valabhji, businessman and former economic advisor to President René,Laura Valabhji, his wife, a lawyer, Leslie Benoiton, former lieutenant colonel in the armed forces, René’s son, Lekha Nair, former government official in the finance ministry, Maurice Loustau-Lalanne, former finance minister and tourism minister and Sarah René, former first lady, widow of René.

It is a head-turning sum that almost none of the 100,000 people living on these tiny specs of paradise in the western Indian Ocean can truly imagine, less still earn in a lifetime, nor even steal.

Yet, it is alleged, stolen it was.

The money was a gift to the tiny republic 20 years ago from the United Arab Emirates, intended to help the struggling islands overcome a foreign exchange shortage and pay for basics: rice, flour, cooking oil.

The donation never landed. Instead, according to the charge sheet at the Supreme Court, it was siphoned off by a close ally of former President, Albert René, laundered with help from others through a murky privatisation of undervalued public assets, and dispersed to bank accounts around the globe.

The six accused have not officially commented on the charges.

The new government of President Wavel Ramkalawan, whose Linyon Demokratik Seselwa party won power in elections 14 months ago, pledging to stamp out the corruption that for many had become synonymous with the 43-year regime of René’s party.

President Ramkalawan, an Anglican priest, was part of the underground opposition at first. He spent 30 years literally beaten and bloodied yet unbowed by one-party state repression under René and his successor, James Michel.

He finally swept aside the previous regime’s last and most liberal incarnation, led by Danny Faure in the October 2020 elections.

The Covid pandemic greeted Mr Ramkalawan’s arrival in State House, rapidly ravaging the archipelago’s tourism-dependent economy.

But, the startling arrests in the $50m corruption case of several high-profile people – including the late President René’s widow – played well with a captive, Covid-restive population. -BBC

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