Injustice in Seychelles

The Government of Seychelles, led by President Wavel Ramkalawan, has initiated a politically-motivated assault on the family members and close associates of the country’s previous leader, France-Albert René, accusing them of corruption and security crimes. The persons at the center of this premeditated attack are from all walks of Seychellois life, which is indicative of the sweeping nature of the current government’s intention to intimidate through any means open to the administration, including false imprisonment and orchestrated ‘show trials’.

A total of nine defendants have been accused in the case and are subject to the ever desperate attempts of the government to lock them away. It is an act of bare-faced political revenge, and one which has sought to stoke prejudice and injustice while relying on antique “evidence” and hearsay. Unconstrained by natural justice and with a very real malign intent, the license that the President has provided to his Ministries, the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles, the Courts and Seychelles authorities has resulted in gross neglect of the defendants’ human rights and a total disregard of recognized rule of law.

Defendants

Sarah Zarqhani René
Widow of ex-President France Albert René and former first lady of Seychelles, Sarah Zarqhani René is a single mother of three girls who has dedicated her life to helping the people of Seychelles through her role as chair of Campaign for Awareness, Resilience and Education (CARE) in which she was active for over 26 years.

Sarah has been an outspoken critic of President Ramkalawan, making her a clear target for any attempt by his government to stamp out any discontent toward him.


Leslie Benoiton
Leslie Benoiton is the son of ex-President René, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Seychelles armed forces and Seychelles Coast Guard-Fleet Commander. A husband and father of a daughter, Esha, who is state counsel in the AG’s office, Mr Benoiton has dedicated his life to the security of Seychelles and is a respected military officer with decades of service to the people of Seychelles. In his role as a member of the armed forces, Mr. Benoiton was fully authorized to receive and store ammunitions on behalf of the defence force.


Antoine Leopold Payet
Antoine Leopold Payet is a retired former Chief of the Seychelles Defence Force and was a close associate of ex-President René. Colonel Payet retired in 2018 after 41 years of dedicated service to his country, upon which the former President Danny Faure noted his “discipline, commitment, and selfless service for his country.


Fahreen Rajan
Fahreen Rajan is a single mother of two young children, both under the age of thirteen and who live outside of Seychelles. Fahreen is a British-Canadian citizen and serves as the CEO of Felicite Island Development, which runs the world famous Six Senses Zil Pasyon Resort that employs at least 150 people.

Fahreen is also a director at Intelvision and Capital Trading, both owned by Mukesh Valabhji, the prominent businessman and advisor on economic reform who was close to ex-President René. It is Fahreen’s proximity to Mukesh that has seen her become another subject of the government of Seychelles’ campaign of suppression.


Maurice Lousteau Lalanne
Maurice Loustau-Lalanne is an aging Seychellois politician who served as the Minister of Finance, Trade, Investment and Economic Planning. He was appointed by President Danny Faure on 26 April 2018 and served until 29 October 2020. He was chosen by Danny Faure to be his running mate as vice-president in the 2020 election. A position seen as a step towards presidency and leadership of the United Seychelles party, he is a viable threat to Ramkalawan’s presidency.


Frank Gaiten Marie
Frank Gaiten Marie is an 81-year old pensioner, grandfather, and former head of the Presidential Guard for ex-President René. Frank Marie was a personal bodyguard, closest friend and associate of the former president for several decades. He devotedly served his country as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Seychelles People’s Defence Force and as a police officer, before he was enlisted to protect former President Albert René. Marie continued to serve as René’s personal bodyguard after the president stepped down in 2004, before his retirement in 2016.

Frank Marie’s family have campaigned tirelessly for his release with a petition that calls out the government for their shameless disregard of the rule of law.


Mukesh and Laura Valabhji
Mukesh Valabhji is one of the country’s most prominent businessmen, and a close associate of ex-President René and his wife Sarah Zarqhani René. Mukesh served as Managing Director of the Seychelles Marketing Board for two decades, during which time the organization was the single largest employer in the Seychelles, contributing 15-20% of the nation’s entire GDP. He was a close adviser and friend to ex-President René and was Head of the Macro Economics Reform Programme, which was charged with reforming and developing the economy. Today, he is a chairman of The Seychelles’ leading cable and broadband internet provider Intelvision and owner of Six Senses Resort.

Mukesh employs hundreds of Seychellois in his businesses that provide vital services for the majority of the country’s residents, as well as its vital financial services and tourism economies.

Laura Agnes Valabhji is a prominent Seychellois lawyer who previously served as state counsel to the Attorney-General’s office between 1996 and 2006. Born in Mahe, Seychelles, Laura is a mother of Larissa Valabhji and the wife of Mukesh.


Lekha Nair
Lekha Nair, is a former public servant who served as Director General of the Ministry of Finance in 2002. Starting out as an Internal Audit Assistant in the Seychelles Ministry of Finance, she is now the CEO of the Seychelles Pension Fund. She has had a significant impact on the development of modern day Seychelles and its economy, overseeing the first-round of IMF macroeconomic reforms. Between those two roles lies a career spanning over 40 years. After multiple roles in audit, she was appointed as the Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Finance, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

She was the first Chief Executive Officer of the Public Officer’s Ethics Commission, where she set up the ethics framework to deter corruption, drive good culture and integrity in the public service. She was arrested for simply following orders and has produced documents in court showing this.


“What we’ve seen to date in the Seychelles Supreme Court can best be described as a show-trial, founded on a politically motivated prosecution case riddled with errors of fact, procedural defects, and breaches of the basic principles of due process.”

– Jonathan Huth, Partner at global disputes and investigations firm, Kobre & Kim

Show Trial

The current proceedings can be categorised as a ‘show trial’ based on trumped-up charges, unsubstantiated allegations, ludicrous and illogical assumptions, half-truths and murky testimony. The case is without doubt politically motivated and clearly shows that there is no separation of powers between the government, its Ministries and the judiciary. Recklessly breaching the constitution of the Seychelles, this case is about the impulse of the President, his cabinet, Ministries and the Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) party, elected in October 2020, to neutralise all political opposition. It is conduct unworthy of a Commonwealth nation and will raise serious concerns about the islands’ claim to be a safe and just destination for international tourists, who will now want to ask themselves questions about this episode of ‘trouble in paradise’.

Failing to observe the norm of established due process, the current conduct of the trials by the Seychelles judiciary, aided and abetted by government pressure on the Courts and legal advisers, reflects nothing short of a politically motivated campaign against loyal citizens connected to the former administration, and now effectively opposition figures.

Rounding up by arrest and running show-trials is the oldest trick in the book of unjust regimes and should be called out for what it is.

Charges

Many of the defendants linked to the politically motivated charges are languishing in a police cell or prison in Seychelles because of spurious allegations for which the authorities are yet to provide proof. The case against them is apparently based on actions over 19 years ago or due to past association to certain persons, most specifically the former President.

Financial Crimes Charges
The accusations focus on René and Benoiton as family members and Mukesh Valabhji and Lekha Nair as professionals, for actions allegedly taken decades ago at a time when current Vice-President Ahmed Afif (ally of President Ramkalawan) controlled foreign transfers at the Central Bank, and ex-President Michel (ally of President Ramkalawan) was Vice-President and Finance Minister. Neither Afif nor Michel are among the accused.Sarah Zarqhani René, Leslie Benoiton, Fahreen Rajan, Mukesh Valabhji, Lekha Nair, and Maurice Loustau-Lalanne have been charged with money laundering and official corruption, and Laura Valabhji has been charged with money laundering, based purely on the fact that she is the wife of Mukesh Valabhji, and that, if he ‘did it’, she must have known. The attempt to discredit Lalanne for actions approved by ex-President Michel at the Ministry of Finance two decades ago are particularly suspect, since Lalanne is the main opposition candidate expected to run against Ramkalawan in the upcoming Presidential elections.

Kobre & Kim, a top international law firm which represents Mr and Mrs Valabhji, issued a damning statement on the state of the charges: “Our client will vigorously defend himself, if and when he is able to secure a full and fair trial. Until such time, our firm, legal experts and human rights campaigners will be watching every step the court makes in this case.”

Weapons Charges
False allegations of weapons charges have been made against many of the defendants in a desperate attempt to discredit, incarcerate and silence them. The prosecution is now arguing, without having suggested any basis whatsoever, that such weapons were imported and possessed by the defendants in connection with terrorism purposes.

For Leslie Benoiton, Leopold Payet and Frank Marie, the charges seen to date relate to the importation of arms for the use of the Seychelles People’s Defence Force decades previously. These three defendants have all held military positions during their careers. Despite this, the prosecution asserted that their actions should now be viewed as terrorism. On 11 February 2022, Mr and Mrs Valabhji received a summons from the Supreme Court to answer allegations about five new offences relating to arms and ammunition. The summons suggests that this proves that they have conspired against the government and committed an ‘abuse of office’.

All parties vigorously deny all the charges and will actively defend themselves, if they are able to secure a full, fair and transparent legal process driven by rule of law and not by malign political motivation.