HRW calls for fair, transparent and impartial proceedings in Seychelles anti-corruption case News
Radosław Botev, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
HRW calls for fair, transparent and impartial proceedings in Seychelles anti-corruption case

Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement issued Thursday called on Seychelles to hold fair and open legal processes against former presidential advisor Mukesh Valabhji and other defendants accused of embezzlement and money laundering in addition to unlawful firearm possession and conspiracy to commit terrorism in November 2021.

Valabhji and his wife were both implicated in the 2002 misappropriation and money laundering of donations of foreign aid from the UAE. Ashwanee Budoo-Scholtz, deputy director of the Africa division at HRW, commented:

The authorities should ensure that the judicial proceedings are conducted in line with the Seychelles constitution and international human rights laws. Abusive and partial application in the enforcement of anticorruption and arms control laws, risks undermining the very rule of law they seek to enthrone.

Transparency advocates have hailed the arrests and subsequent legal action against the defendants as a positive development, applauding the anti-corruption commission’s work. Chrystold Chetty, chairman of Transparency Initiative Seychelles, expressed optimism that such actions signal a commitment to combating corruption within the nation.

However, delays and anomalies in the judicial process have plagued the case. A request by the Valabhjis to have Chief Justice Rony step down from overseeing the case was denied by the Supreme Court in 2023. The court determined that the couple’s allegations of bias stemming from their personal relationship with the Chief Justice were unfounded and unrelated to the case at hand.

The defendants’ legal representatives informed HRW that they petitioned the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, alleging violations of their rights to a fair trial and exposure to abusive treatment. They cited the prosecution’s failure to disclose necessary documents and information, as well as the last-minute introduction of new witnesses, with the court allegedly disregarding their objections.

Valabhji came under scrutiny in the Pandora Papers, a comprehensive investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its partners. This investigation, which covered a wide range of wealthy and powerful people’s murky financial activities, exposed Valabhji’s widespread usage of offshore bank accounts and shell companies. With the aid of an extensive database of documents stolen from offshore service providers in the Seychelles, the investigation revealed not only the nation’s status as a popular tax haven but also the covert financial dealings of over 20 politicians from Europe, Asia and Africa.