Today, the Mauritanian government arrested my brother, Abderrahmane Weddady, in retribution for his revelation of a gigantic Ponzi scheme in which over 7000 Mauritanian families lost their homes, land and wealth, and in which the current President, General Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz, and his family are directly implicated.
The charlatan behind this Ponzi scheme remains free and under state protection after robbing the entire country, whilst my brother, who blew the whistle, has been arrested, charged and will potentially be put on trial. How did this happen?
At the heart of the Ponzi scheme is a religious scholar, Sheikh Rada, who abused his trusted religious position by posing as a buyer and convincing people to sell him their homes and land at an inflated price. He would pay only part of the price, along with an note for the remaining amount to be paid later, and then never pay, of course.
This scheme has been going on for at least 7 years entirely unhindered by the authorities. Not only have they failed to investigate, but the president provides Sheikh Rada with personal security! President Ould Abdelaziz’s family is close to Sheikh Rada, and has repeatedly used him to buy real estate which he acquired fraudulently.
Abderrahmane blew the whistle on the Ponzi scheme in January 2016. Since then, the government has had a vendetta against him, because his actions could potentially contribute to undermining years of systematic state-approved robbery.
The President’s ‘Retirement Fund’
The President is begrudgingly leaving office in June, after his position became untenable. His time in power has been infested with graft – Mauritania ranked 144th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Index.
His only remaining problem is how to funnel all his ill-gained wealth out of the country, so he can continue to enjoy it for the rest of his days. For that, he seems to have picked the UAE as the destination; his unexplained recent shuttling back and forth to the UAE has coincided with international banks blocking access to Mauritania’s banking system over money-laundering concerns.
The victims of the scheme recently organized demonstrations to demand the recovery of their lost properties. Meanwhile, Mauritanian bloggers have written a petition to UAE Vice President Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum, urging him to return any ill-begotten money that had been moved to Dubai, and asking him to prevent any more from being moved.
Bloggers wrote posts wondering whether the shut down of Mauritania’s banking system was related to money transfers by the president. My brother posed the same question. When asked by journalists, the president denied any wrongdoing, blaming the bloggers for spreading false news, and deflecting with vague statements about how the matter “should be looked into”.
Last month, my brother published direct evidence of President Ould Abdelaziz’ involvement in this corruption scheme on his Facebook account. Ten days ago, the economic crimes police called him and his fellow blogger Shaikh Ould Jiddou in for questioning. My brother repeated what he had already said publicly, and expressed hopes that the state would investigate the President and the religious charlatan running the Ponzi scheme for him. The released them – but kept their passports, informing them that they remained under investigation.
Jail for the Honest, Freedom for Thieves
Today, the police summoned my brother Abderrahmane (a.k.a Baham) and Sheikh Ould Jiddou again, and placed them under arrest. They are being held incommunicado. Their lawyers have so far been denied access to them. My brother, who is pre-diabetic, has not been allowed to get his food.
My brother is a staunch human rights advocate and is being targeted because he is one of the most vocal critics of current Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdelaziz. He is facing retribution for interfering with General Aziz’ plans to safely exit power with wealth plundered from the people of Mauritania. They are trying to silence him.
Mauritania may be a small country, but the last few years have shown us that corruption festers and impunity spreads like cancer. The government must release Abderrahmane and investigate President Aziz’ illegal fortune. Share this demand, and make sure it is heard.
UPDATE: Abderrahmane’s lawyer was able to see him and Shaikh Ould Jijddou. He says they don’t know what they’re charged with, and that the move is politically motivated and designed to humiliate them.
Follow Nasser Weddady on Twitter at @weddady for updates on the case.