Not So Subtle Corruption In Mauritius

Here is the cable from the US Embassy in Mauritius dated 6th June 2008 as reported by Wikileaks:

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Recent allegations and press reports on corruption scandals in Mauritius highlight an often overlooked issue by those new to or unfamiliar with the island. Upon first impression, Mauritius may look relatively clean, but with some digging – one may find questionable dealings under the surface. Despite the founding of Mauritius’ Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in 2002, the country still suffers from a pervasive and ingrained problem. END SUMMARY.

Corruption according to Cunningham

¶2. (C) RSO Port Louis recently met with the Director of the Mauritius Customs service, Bert C. Cunningham, a Canadian citizen who has held his post since October of 2002. Mauritian authorities brought Cunningham into Mauritius, as an impartial foreigner to fight corruption in the customs service. Despite some success, such as securing a massive increase in customs duties paid (without an increase in rates), Cunningham is currently considering departing the island permanently. He is frustrated in his efforts to bring to justice corrupt officials in his own department; he suspects deeply-rooted corruption in high levels of the government; and last but not least – he received death threats against him. Consequently, Cunningham sent his family back to Canada in an effort to protect them.

¶3. (C) Cunningham mentioned several recent cases to RSO (detailed in subparagraphs a through d below), all of which he has complained about to the State Law Office and other officials in the Prime Minister’s Office, whom he feels to be unresponsive due to “behind the scenes corruption. ” Cunningham stated that, during a meeting on April 11, 2008, with government officials, including the Financial Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Ali Mansoor, and Deputy Commissioner of Police, Khemraj Servansing, he was told in no uncertain terms that he should remain quiet about the alleged corruption because if it were to become public, it could bring down the current government of Mauritius. Cunningham noted that he felt warned or even threatened during the meeting. Cunningham also stated that he recently received written death threats, which he threw out. (RSO advised him to retain such threats in the future.) Cunningham detailed four cases as examples of corruption in Mauritius. Details of cases a) through d) follow:

a) In the first example, Cunningham received word from a confidential source that a large quantity of drugs was on its way from Madagascar onboard a passenger ferry vessel. On December 8, 2007, such a vessel arrived and a special Customs team was ready to inspect the goods being off-loaded, with plain clothes officers positioned at the entrance to the port to watch for whomever may come to take possession of the drugs. The officers noticed that six Malagasy women were being held in secondary inspection pending deportation by the immigration police. The immigration police prevented the customs officers from questioning the six women, and attempted to prevent the inspection of their baggage and furniture. After finally getting a look at the goods, 27 kilograms of hashish, valued over $1 million, were found. The customs officer at the port entrance reported seeing the head of the Anti- Drug Smuggling Unit, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Rampersad Sooroojebally, arrive at the port, speak to a police officer, and then abruptly depart. Cunningham, who views this behavior as highly suspicious, believes the immigration police attempted to prevent the customs officers from inspecting the cargo because the police planned to “deport” the women and keep the drugs as part of an organized smuggling operation. (Comment: Sooroojebally’s actions do seem suspicious because if he was allegedly there to observe a drug bust; he did not go into the port, view the evidence, or laud his officers for the effort. End Note.) This incident could also be explained, however, as evidence of an ongoing rivalry between the Police and Customs Departments. Subsequent media reports gave the ADSU full credit for the bust without mentioning Customs. The lack of press attention is typical according to Cunningham, who is quick to emphasize that Customs is responsible for 80% of drug seizures in the country, while the ADSU normally gets the credit. End Comment.

b) A second case involves a Customs officer on the island of Rodrigues. In this case, a female officer left her normal post, traveled to the airport, and escorted a male visitor through security checkpoints. They then proceeded to a hotel, where police found them injecting heroin, with a large quantity of heroin (most likely just smuggled in) laying nearby. According to Cunningham, the police beat the male smuggler to death that evening while in custody. (Comment: To date, there has been no press report of this incident. End Comment.) Cunningham indicated the female officer has not been charged with any crime and said he is being prevented from firing her. By Cunningham’s account, he was allowed only to transfer her to a new position in Mauritius. Cunningham feels that the smuggler was murdered to keep the corruption ring under wraps, but also surmised that the cover up may have been done to prevent the disclosure of the death in police custody. Cunningham stated that he has hundreds of officers that need to be fired due to poor performance and probable corruption, but the most severe measure he has been able to take so far is to place some on administrative leave with full pay.

c) A third case involves smuggling from warehouses and the freeport. Containers were being removed from the port without proper inspection using forged documents with appropriate stamps and container numbers that had been exported two weeks prior to the incident. Cunningham presented the case to the State Law Office for prosecution — complete with confessions — however they refused to prosecute. The complexity of the crime suggests that an organized crime effort is underway that involves many different port officials. While Customs officers have not determined exact contents of the containers, they suspect cigarettes, alcohol, and counterfeit goods. The same operation did, however, result in the officers finding several empty containers in the south of the island. Despite the obtained confession, false documentation, and the physical location of the containers, the case was not prosecuted due to “lack of evidence.” Cunningham believes that the Prosecutor’s Office is covering up for “high level” officials who are benefiting from the crime. In a related cigarette smuggling case, a customs informant who was about to provide evidence was found dead – hanging in his hotel room. According to Cunningham, this was an “assisted suicide.”

d) Cunningham further alleged that the official responsible for overseeing the destruction of all drugs confiscated by police in Mauritius, privately admitted to him that he in fact does not attend the actual destruction. Cunningham implied that the drugs taken in by police during busts are in turn sold by police.

The Press’ Picture of Corruption

¶4. (C) Press reports buttress Cunningham’s allegations of corruption and, when coupled with them, paint a dismal picture of corruption in Mauritius. Subparagraphs a through c below recount recent incidents of note:

a) The death of Major Crime Investigation Team (MCIT) chief Prem Raddhoa of a heart attack was widely touted as a national tragedy in the press, as he was portrayed in many press reports as a “tough guy” cop who always got his man. He enjoyed political support from the Prime Minister’s Office, even over objections from the Commissioner of Police, Ramanooj Gopalsingh, who stated that Raddhoa had “over fifty unresolved charges of Police brutality against him.” Shortly after his death, authorities disassembled the MCIT team that Raddhoa created, and reassigned the officers to different units spanning the island. Subsequently, a very large sum of cash was reportedly found in Raddhoa’s police locker when it was cleaned out after his death. This led to a larger investigation into the activities of the MCIT and to reports that suggest that MCIT officers took “protection” money from “businessmen, bookmakers and others.” The current head of the new MCIT states that the accused officers “are living beyond their legal means.” Prior to Raddhoa’s death, among other duties, the MCIT was charged with assisting in cleaning up the gaming industry and fighting against abuses of intellectual property, two economic areas where, according to the Mauritian Financial Intelligence Unit, corruption abounds. (Comment: In a short walk around Port Louis, high quality illegal copies of music CDs and movie DVDs are sold out in the open at fixed storefronts for about two dollars each, suggesting that authorities are not at all serious about IPR violation enforcement. End comment.)

b) A police officer at the Passport and Immigration Office airport division and previous graduate of a U.S. International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) course in detecting fraudulent documents held in Gaborone, was arrested for facilitating an alien smuggling ring.

c) The Mauritius Revenue Authority, a body created in 2005 at the suggestion of Cunningham, which now oversees the Customs Service, recently initiated inquiries on 77 of its employees. The inquiry resulted in 26 receiving “severe warnings” and four referred for further investigation. Three of the four officers investigated for serious infractions are customs officers who are suspected of permitting large shipments of goods into the country at a fraction of their normal duty in exchange for large sums of cash deposited in family bank accounts. (Comment: Cunningham helped the governments of Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Kenya and Lesotho set up similar revenue authorities. End comment.)

¶5. (C) Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam silenced all calls for a special investigation into the MCIT “protection money” during a November 27, 2007, parliamentary session. Ramgoolam stated that the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), founded in 2002 as a result of the Prevention of Corruption Act, has wide ranging powers including access to bank accounts following a judge’s order. (Note: Post suspects that many in the government feel that the ICAC, despite it’s name, is not independent at all. Many government officials cite that ICAC officers are all appointed by and owe their careers and loyalty to the Prime Minister’s Office. End Note.)


¶6. (SBU) A review of a 2004 UNDP sponsored survey on corruption in Mauritius reveals some interesting statistics. Of citizens on the island of Mauritius, corruption was named the largest national problem by 20.1 percent of the respondents, beating out unemployment (17 percent), drugs (16.8 percent) (Mauritius has one of the highest per capita heroin use rates in the world), and poverty (12.9 percent). The study noted that 16 percent of Mauritians surveyed have been asked for a bribe in the past. Asked for their perception about “high level” corruption in the previous three years, 70.6% of respondents said it had increased, while only 10.3% said it decreased. As for the ICAC itself, people were asked about the level of independence they thought ICAC had in its investigations. “Not much independence” slightly defeated “much independence” by a 24.3 to 22.4 percent margin.

¶7. (U) In the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) published by Transparency International (TI) in September 2007, Mauritius fell 11 positions from the previous year, when it ranked 42nd in the world with a score of 5.1 on a 10-point index, to be ranked 53rd with a score of 4.7. This latest score fails to break the 5.0 threshold that TI considers to represent a reasonable performance and places Mauritius among the countries that have experienced a significant worsening in the perceived levels of corruption within the last year.

¶8. (SBU) Conclusion: Post believes that corruption is a problem in Mauritian society that is overlooked by a number of private businesses, NGO’s and Government agencies. Cunningham’s allegations, although startling, seem to be backed up by other entities, and may be only the tip of the iceberg. ICAC’s web-site icac/index.htm lists several recent prosecutions, all of which are low level with minor penalties. Post will monitor the progress of corruption allegations and report on the outcome of the various investigations.



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