Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Moroccan News Briefs #125

Mission Impossible 5 - Tunnel Arrests

According to the Arabic daily Al Massae, Moroccan police arrested 13 people in Marrakech for using a network of tunnels abandoned after filming of Mission Impossible 5, to hide drugs. Those arrested were described as "a dangerous organized gang". They were apprehended after what the newspaper said was "strong resistance" and the use of sabres.

The newspaper said authorities discovered a cache  of "drugs, stolen goods and knives imported from abroad."

The police report that the gang's leader was a man aged 43 and that the gang specialized in drug trafficking, burglary and armed robbery.

The newspaper reported that a woman was part of the gang, adding that the age of all suspects, excluding their head was between 20 and 30 years. Al Massae reported that twenty arrest warrants were issued and that the suspects were eventually jailed at the central office of the Royal Gendarmerie in Marrakech.

Prison Escape a "Cake walk"

Eleven people in custody in the Hay Salam police district in Salé, managed to leave their cells to escape. This "great escape" was, according to local media reports "a piece of cake!"

The eleven individuals had all been arrested for serious crimes and were described as "dangerous". However, they did not need to dig tunnels, cut the bars of cells or threaten their guards: they simply left the prison through a small door generally used by families to put food and personal effects to the defendants. They walked out on the early hours of Sunday.

Senior security officials who arrived to observe the situation, were amazed at the ease of the escape and a hunt for the fugitives was launched.

But, to everyone's surprise the "Great Escape" was eclipsed by the "Great Return"!  Firstly, one of the fugitives, a minor, returned with his father to surrender to police.  And a few hours later, three other fugitives followed his example by handing themselves in. An investigation is underway.

Organ Donation Campaign to be Launched 

A national campaign to convince Moroccans to donate organs and tissues will be launched on March 12. An initiative of the CHIS (Hospital Ibn Sina) in Rabat, it aims to address the lack of donations from living or deceased donors. Organs from a single deceased donor can often save up to eight lives

According to CHIS, the aim is to "explain the religious and legal aspects of donation and to restore public confidence in this area."

"Donation for therapeutic purposes in order to restore the regular function of a failing organ or tissue is permissible under Islam," says CHIS. The statistics at the end of 2014 show that there are only about 25 transplants per million population and 0.4 donors for all types of organs in Morocco.

According to the CHIS, only a thousand people have signed the donor registry which is far short of the numbers needed for the expected 200 to 250 grafts (kidneys, liver, cornea and bone) per year.

Massive Fraud by Polisario

The European Union’s aid to populations in the Polisario-controlled Tindouf camps (southwestern Algeria) is “massively defrauded” by the Polisario leaders and Algeria, writes Spanish paper El Mundo, citing a report by the EU’s anti-fraud office (OLAF).

Embezzlement was revealed by the EU’s office in a 250-page report, which shows how the humanitarian aid extended by the EU, between 2003 and 2007, ended in markets in Algeria, Mauritania and Mali, the paper notes on its website.

The story, signed by Ignacio Cembrero, points that the EU’s office started investigating in 2003 after one of its experts who was travelling to Mali found dairy products, bearing the label of the European commission’s humanitarian aid agency, being sold in Malian markets.

For OLAF, fraud is made possible by the overestimation of the Tindouf camps, says the paper which also recalls that the UNHCR does not have an updated census of this populations because of the “Polisario refusal for 39 years to allow a census”.

Since 1975, the EU has been extending financial aid to the Camps populations on the basis of Algerian estimations of 155,000 persons, notes the Spanish mass-circulation daily, which also deplores the refusal of Polisario representative in Europe to take phone calls from El Mundo.

The OLAF report, conducted in 2007 and disclosed recently, slams Algeria and the Polisario for embezzling humanitarian aid for decades to the detriment of the Saharawis living in the Tindouf camps.

The report notes that systematic embezzlement starts in the Algerian port of Oran where a large part of humanitarian aid is diverted away from the intended beneficiaries in the camps.

Among the factors that facilitate such embezzlement is the overestimation of the numbers of the refugees and consequently the aid, the OLAF explained in the report.

In Detail

  • Inflation of the number of Sahwaris residing in the camps. The report states ''One of the reasons that made these diversions possible is the overestimation of the number of refugees and therefore aid provided." The EU has provided aid since 1975, based on Algerian estimates of a population of 150,000; in 2005, OLAF unilaterally reduced that estimate to 90,000. But because the Polisario and Algeria have for decades consistently refused to allow the UN to conduct a census in the camps, the true population is unknown. And despite the 2007 report on theft, the EU has not suspended or reduced the amount of aid provided.
  • Diversion of food aid. Eyewitnesses have long reported that the Polisario routinely diverts food meant for the refugees and sells it on the black market.The OLAF investigation found that the diversion "begins in the Algerian port of Oran, where the sorting between 'what should arrive and what can be diverted' takes place." OLAF reported, for example, that Canadian wheat intended for the camps is replaced by lower quality grain, and the high quality wheat is sold; and that products for raising poultry are also sold rather than being provided to the refugees.
  • The use of unpaid prison laborers to handle food aid, and for construction of buildings financed by international aid.
"The EU report is further proof of what has been well known and documented for decades -- tens of thousands of Sahrawis are trapped in desperate conditions in the Tindouf camps under the despotic Polisario regime that denies them basic human rights and literally steals the food out of their mouths," said Ambassador Edward M. Gabriel. "It is time for the EU and the rest of the international community to recognize the Polisario for what it is and put an end to this humanitarian crisis."

Morocco's Islamic Bank Opening in September

Morocco on The Move, is reporting that Morocco is poised to have its first full-fledged Islamic bank as early as September as the only North African country rated investment grade seeks to tap the US$1.8 trillion industry.

Dar Assafaa, an affiliate of the country’s largest lender AttijariWafa Bank, will probably become the nation’s first wholly Sharia-compliant financial institution when the central bank approves its switch, according to the Moroccan Association of Participative Financiers. The country introduced a law in January to regulate Islamic financial products and allow local and foreign banks to set up units that comply with the religion’s ban on interest.

“By September or October the first Sharia-compliant bank will start,” said Said Amaghdir, the chairman of the Casablanca-based association. “Morocco’s financing needs are huge, especially in project finance, and the stability we enjoy here will act in favour of Morocco.”

Political stability relative to neighbours has helped Morocco progress in an industry that’s stalling elsewhere in North Africa. Sharia-compliant finance in Egypt was derailed after Mohammed Morsi’s Islamist government was overthrown in 2013, while Libya has slipped into political chaos following the ouster of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. Even in Tunisia, which directly elected its president for the first time in November, a debut sukuk sale has been delayed at least three times

UAE and Moroccan Investors to Build Mall in Rabat

Five investment funds from Morocco and the UAE have agreed to join hands to construct a large shopping mall in the Moroccan capital Rabat. The project on the Bou Regreg River will include at least 200 shops and a luxury hotel and provide about 3,000 jobs.

The investors include the Casablanca-based Aksal Group, Wessael Capital, a Moroccan private equity style investment fund and the Moroccan fund for touristic development. The report did not name the two other funds.

The mall is part of the major Bou Regreg River development launched by King Mohammed VI in May for the construction of houses, services, cultural and recreation centres, hotels and other facilities.

The project, with an area of 110 hectares (over one square km), is estimated to cost around 8.7 billion Moroccan dirhams ($878 million). It will also include leisure facilities including a cinema complex. The building's design was entrusted to the architect Davide Padoa, head of the International Design firm. The architecture of the Mall will build the Grand Theatre designed by Zaha Hadid.

Jordan`s King Abdullah, Queen Rania to visit Morocco

HM King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan are paying an official working visit to Morocco until March 12 at the invitation of HM King Mohammed VI.

Accompanied by Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein Ibn Talal, Prince Rashid Bin Al Hassan Bin Talal and Princess Zeina Rashid, they were welcomed by King Mohammed VI, accompanied the Prince Moulay El Hassan, Prince Moulay Rachid and Princess Lalla Salma. The king and his guests reviewed a detachment of the Royal Guard before being invited to the traditional welcoming ceremony of milk and dates.

The Sovereign also offered an official dinner, at the Royal Palace in Casablanca, in honor of HM King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, and their accompanying delegation.

The Largest Desalination Plant in Morocco

Abengoa has recently begun construction of Morocco’s largest desalination plant, having closed the financing for the project together with its local partner InfraMaroc (CDG Capital Infrastructures group).

Once commissioned, the plant located 45 km from the city of Agadir will supply 100,000 m3/day of drinking water to more than 500,000 people and contribute to the development of the tourism and agricultural industries that are the main economic drivers of the surrounding region.

The plant will use the most modern ultrafiltration pre-treatment systems and reverse osmosis technology to desalinate sea water. Capacity may be doubled at a later date, Abengoa said in a statement.

A total of EUR 82mn ($87.7mn) in financing has been arranged with a consortium of local banks led by Banque Marocaine du Commerce Exterieur (BMCE), ensuring a high degree of integration and participation with the local business and financial sector.

This is the first project that the National Power and Drinking Water Office (ONEE) has developed under a public-private partnership (PPP) system, putting Abengoa at the forefront of this model in Morocco.

Zakaria Wins Award

Leyla Bouzid
Zakaria, a short film by Leyla Bouzid, has been named best film dealing with the theme of travel, by a jury chaired by Moroccan director Daoud Oulad Siyed, at the 24th edition of Fespaco.

The award was given to the director by the President of Royal Air Morocco (RAM), Driss Benhima, during a ceremony chaired by the minister of culture and tourism.

Shot in the south of France, this 27 minute film tells the story of an Algerian family living in France who sees his life turned upside down when the father suddenly decides to return to Algeria.

Besides winning the Ibn Battuta Award, Zakaria also won the Thomas Sankara prize from the African Guild of directors and producers.

 The Ibn Battuta Prize is a tribute to the Moroccan explorer of the same name, which has covered more than 120,000 kilometers of travel in 28 years during the 14th century.

Also at the 24th edition of Fespaco filmmaker Hicham Ayouch won the Golden Stallion of Yennenga Grand Prize with his film Fever.

International Volunteers Wanted

After the successful experience in the last years, international volunteers are once again invited in different Moroccan cities to teach one or two foreign languages (English / French / Spanish / Italian / German) to children and young people with less educational opportunities. Volunteers will help reinforce the languages capacities of these children. Both Moroccan and international volunteers will take part in these projects.

The volunteers will work five days a week, five hours a day, with two days off per week. The volunteers will have 6 hours of Arabic language classes per week for a month.

Special requirements: Volunteers should be motivated to teach children and young people; have enough skills and competences to achieve this mission; be open-minded, flexible, social and open for intercultural exchange with the Moroccan population.

Location: The projects will take place in different cities in Morocco: Rabat, Sale, Casablanca, Mohammadia, Beni Mellal.

Duration: The volunteer placements are from 1 to 10 months.

Find out more about this and other volunteer opportunities in Morocco at:

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