Moroccan government refuses to disclose fish licence holders
Questions in the Moroccan Parliament regarding the identities of the beneficiaries of fishing licences were denied an answer by the Moroccan government. But leaks in the media indicate that it is mainly Moroccan army generals and defected Saharawis who are on the receiving end.
The matter of lifelong fishing licenses authorising access to the rich fish stocks of occupied Western Sahara being handed out to undisclosed benefiaries has been a hot topic in Moroccan media for a few years now. Several newspapers, including Lakome and Akhbar el Youm, have over time commented that these licences that are handed out free of charge are primarily given to senior Moroccan army officials and the royal entourage.
“We await the list of Akhanouch”, independent Moroccan newspaper Lakome headlined shortly after Moroccan Minister of Transport, Abdelaziz Rabah, had published the names of those benefitting from prime inner and intercity routes by orders from high echelons. The publication of the list was in line with the islamist party's promise of transparency, but the content of the list was nevertheless surprising, in the sense that it did not only contain transport companies, but also artists, former Ministers, imams and members of the political beau-monde. Ever since, the Moroccan public has been eager to know who else is receiving profitable licenses in exchange for allegiance to the Morocco’s circles of power.
Heading the list of license-owners is Military Inspector General and Army Commander, Lieutenant General Abdelaziz Bennani. A telegram sent to Washington in 2008 by then U.S. ambassador to Morocco, Thomas Riley, already hinted upon Bennani’s business, according to Wikileaks-cable 08 Rabat 727. "Credible reports indicate that Lt Gen Benanni is using his position as the Commander of the Southern Sector to skim money from military contracts and influence business decisions. A widely believed rumour has it that he owns large parts of the fisheries in Western Sahara. Benanni, like many senior military officers, has a lavish family home that was likely built with money gleaned from bribes. Leadership positions in regional sectors are a significant source of extralegal income for military leaders. "
Head of the Gendarmerie, General Hosni Bensliman, also appears on the list, as does former Inspector-General of the Armed Forces, Abdelhak Kadiri. WSRW believes that Kadiri and Benslimane were associates in ‘Kaben Pêche’ – a company sold to Spanish and Moroccan investors between 2001 and 2004, according to Akhbar al-Youm. Kaben Pêche’s freezer vessels - Abla, Al Hikma, Salima and Sofia - all feature on the European Union’s list of approved fish producers. According to El País, Bensliman and Kadiri own a high number of licenses, which they’ve transferred, not sold, in exchange for money, to Moroccan and Spanish vessel owners. Both Bensliman en Kadiri were subject of an international arrest warrant by French judge Patrick Ramaël - a warrant blocked by the French presidency.
Also listed are colonels Saouss and Ouaâlite. The latter is said to have owned 12 fishing licenses, before teaming-up with a Spanish investor who owns several restaurants in Spain. According to Akhbar al-Youm, most of these licenses were sold at extremely high prices. Among the first to purchase was Moulay Hassan Baraka, father of Morocco’s current Minister of Finance Nizar Baraka.
Bouazza Ikken, former leader of the Democratic Union, once held 18 fishing licenses. But the ‘Prince of Shrimp’, as he’s dubbed by his peers, has sold 10 authorisations. Nevertheless, his family continues to benefit from the remaining eight.
The relatives of former Minister Driss Basri are also on the receiving end of the license-largesse. Basri’s brother-in-law, Abdelmoughit Slimane, owns 56 licenses today – nearly half of the 119 fishing licenses granted to the European Union in exchange for an annual 36 million Euro, under the fisheries agreement which the European Parliament rejected in December 2011.
Albert Lévy, a young Jewish Moroccan who is well-connected to the Palace and owner of the Amnésia nightclub in Rabat – frequented by Mohammed VI and his brother – also holds fishing licenses. Mohamed Zebdi, former associate of General Bennani, etc.
Finally, Saharawi who have sworn allegiance to the Moroccan crown have also been awarded lucrative fishing licenses. Ma’el Ainine Haibatou, former President of the Finances Committee of the Moroccan Parliament, Mohamed Joumani, former Colonel Cherif Dlimi, Cheikh Amer, Hassan Derham and Gajmoula Bint Ebbi, former Polisario-official.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.