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

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