It was a cheap shot. “Madam speaker, it is sad that many governments have worked to build the offshore sector and that the opposition and the media are destroying it,” Minister of Financial Services Dharmendar Sesungkur said in reply to the Private Notice Question of the leader of the opposition, Xavier-Luc Duval. So it is all the opposition’s fault and the media’s, is it? We are the ones who erred!
When our stylish deputy-prime minister and minister of energy – Ivan Collendavelloo – gazed into Álvaro Sobrinho’s eyes and vouched for his unimpeachable integrity and the cleanliness of his money, we, in the media, were reassured of only one thing. That the eyes of the one affectionately referred to as the sleeping Chihuahua do physically open from time to time. As for what he sees, we did not have to wait for long as the Kroll report this week confirmed our worst fears.
Sobrinho came out as a man who, according to some sources quoted in the report, would find it hard to open even a simple bank account in some banks, let alone be allowed to set up a bank himself.
So were any sanctions taken against those who had inflicted the Sobrinho disease on the whole nation? Like Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, against whom more and more serious allegations are being publicly expressed? Or against the minister who had vouched for him? Any spot of bother for Dass Appadu, who forwarded the guy’s requests to transit in our VIP lounge 31 times to the PMO? Anything for Sesungkur to worry about after the mass resignations following alleged blatant interference in matters of the FSC?
No! Perish the thought! Instead, the board of the FSC – constituted at the eleventh hour – decided to take the immediate decision of clearing Sobrinho for business!
And Sesungkur looked straight at the camera lenses in parliament and quoted one very selective part of the report to ‘show’ that there is no proof of any malfeasance against Sobrinho! The guy who bankrupted a bank and whose assets were frozen by the Swiss authorities! As for the four successive resignations from the board of the Financial Services Commission, the minister’s answer was equally ‘convincing’: They resigned for personal reasons! They all simultaneously had babies, fell sick, decided to emigrate or sail around the world or sold their Ferraris and became monks! And all this happened at the same time that Sobrinho was cleared to start his businesses in the most obscure and convoluted circumstances! And we are the ones degrading our offshore sector?!
Equally worrying is the invoice disclosed on Wednesday by the leader of the opposition which was sent to our embassy in Paris for a claim of Rs522,000 for the rental of two Mercedes cars at the cost of Rs123,000 a day, apparently for the Planet Earth Institute! Who used these cars? The president of the republic has a duty to come and explain. And, while we are at it, does she have any comment on the talk of the town in some business circles concerning the use of a Planet Earth Institute credit card to buy jewellery and designer shoes?
The more we dig into the Sobrinho saga, the more muck comes out. A proper enquiry is in order. First, we need to know why senior ministers have been bending over backwards to clear Sobrinho for business, including changing the law and cobbling up a board to take instant decisions. Those responsible have to go. Secondly, we need to take a serious look into the State House.
It is therefore absolutely vital for the president of the republic, who introduced the businessman to Mauritius and pushed for permits to be delivered to him in record time, to decamp to allow a proper investigation and safeguard the dignity of the state. Lying low and hoping another scandal would derail this one is no longer an option. It is high time some heads rolled. If only to allow the country to keep some self-respect.
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