US diplomats decry Moroccan king’s corruption

Morocco’s royal family is using state institutions to “coerce and solicit bribes” in the country’s lucrative real estate sector.

This is according to claims in a report from United States diplomats released by WikiLeaks.

Allegations of high-level corruption involving the rulers of Washington’s closest ally in North Africa were brought to the attention of the US consulate in Casablanca, Morocco’s commercial capital, by a businessman in 2009, leading diplomats to describe “the appalling greed” of those close to King Mohammed VI.

According to the US report, decisions involving Osmium Nerd African (ONA), a holding company owned by the king, are made only by the king and two of his powerful associates.

“To have discussions with anyone else would be a waste of time,” the head of the company is quoted as saying.

Royal involvement in business is a hot topic in Morocco, but public discussion of it is sensitive.

The US embassy in Rabat reported to Washington in a separate cable that “corruption is prevalent at all levels of Moroccan society”.

A little, but not enough
Mohammed, who succeeded his father, Hassan, in 1999, is said to have cleaned up the royal family’s act, but it appears he has not done enough.

“While corrupt practices existed during the reign of King Hassan II … they have become much more institutionalised with King Mohammed VI,” one cable quotes a businessman as saying. Institutions such as ONA — Morocco’s largest conglomerate, which clears most large development projects — coerced developers into granting beneficial rights to ONA, the businessman was quoted as saying.

The experience of the US consulate’s informant “demonstrates a reality of which most Moroccans dare only whisper: the influence and commercial interest of the king and some of his advisers in virtually every major real-estate project here,” the cable records.

“A former US ambassador to Morocco, who remains closely connected to the palace, separately lamented to us what he termed the appalling greed of those close to King Mohammed VI.

“This phenomenon seriously undermines the good governance that the Moroccan government is working hard to promote.”

Further concern about the king’s involvement in business emerged in 2008, when ONA dismissed Saad Bendidi as chief executive of Wana, the company’s telecommunications subsidiary. The official announcement said he had mismanaged the company, but speculation suggested a personality clash with the king.

The dismissal “cast doubt on the transparency of the king’s business affairs”, an “explosive situation” at a time when Moroccans face rising prices for goods whose production and distribution is often assured by the king’s own companies.

There has been hushed debate about these issues in Moroccan business circles, but “few expect the royal role in ONA to change any time soon”. — Guardian News & Media 2010

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Ian Black
Guest Author

The case against Floyd Shivambu

The flow of money from VBS Bank would seem to suggest that the EFF’s second-in-command was an ultimate beneficiary of proceeds of a crime

Cabinet reshuffle rumours: Unlikely to happen any time soon, but…

Persistent rumours of a cabinet reshuffle may be jumping the gun, but they do reflect the political realignment taking place within the ANC

Gauteng responds to grave concern

The news of Gauteng’s grave site preparations raised alarm about the expected number of Covid-19-related deaths in the province

Nigeria’s anti-corruption boss arrested for corruption

Ibrahim Magu’s arrest by the secret police was a surprise — but also not surprising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday