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French Version

Morocco - Veil of secrecy lifts on Morocco's palatial plundering

Silver cutlery, crystal carafes and glasses bearing the monogram of Hassan II are finding their way into second hand shops, pilfered from the royal palaces spurned by King Mohammad VI in favor of more "normal" homes. And for the first time, the Moroccan press is talking all about it.

Royal residences in Agadir, Marrakesh and Rabat have been repeatedly targeted by thieves, often former employees, in the six years since the death of Hassan II, under whose reign the palaces remained forbidden cities.

"Until the start of the 1980s, it was difficult if not impossible to report the 'excesses' of a minister, an official or a governor, let alone to think of writing an article about the excesses of royal palace officials or about thefts from these palaces," the independent daily newspaper Assabah wrote on Saturday.

Like Maroc-Hebdo, many dailies have only halfheartedly highlighted the thefts and have not broken the taboo on the royal family's fortune, particularly as Mohammad VI, dubbed "King of the poor" by a clever aide, has launched his national initiative for human development.

Only one weekly title, Tel Quel, risked publishing a report last January on the wealth of the king and his late father, Hassan II.

In the latest episode of palatial plundering, a dozen people have just been arrested over the theft of valuable items from the king's Rabat residence.

Some of the spoils - 347 crystal glasses, 63 bowls, 64 plates, six carafes and a gold dagger - were found in a warehouse in Temara, a smart coastal resort 15 kilometers to the south of the capital. A chauffeur and shop keeper from the Rabat palace, as well as a Tangiers man suspected of receiving stolen goods, were among those detained.

It was a small but treacherous theft as one buyer of the monogrammed glasses was a prominent businessman known to be close to Moulay Hicham, an estranged German cousin of the king, one member of the press said.

"I just bought around a hundred of these glasses a year and a half ago in a second hand store! There were some for sale. I didn't hide it from the police when they came to my house," Fadel Iraki, also a principal shareholder of a prominent opposition weekly said.

Even if the thefts are not all politically exploited - or exploitable - the growth in their number is unsettling and the authorities seem to have decided to stop the rot, particularly as these palaces are now designated as belonging to the public heritage and are managed by a dedicated minister.

According to one Moroccan newspaper, a colonel in charge of Agadir's royal palace is to appear in court on September 27 accused of embezzlement, use of forgeries and falsifying documents. To avoid revelations in court, an informal settlement is likely to be reached: the dropping of all charges in return for a sizeable payment from the suspected thief.

Also during September, a judicial source announced the arrest of 18 people over the recent theft of "supplies" from the Marrakesh royal palace.

Suspiciously to some, one of those detained died on September 3, although Marrakesh prosecutor Abedlilah Mestari denied this to the press, quoting the autopsy report, that Hassan Zoubairi, a businessman aged 39, had died due to torture during police questioning.

Casablanca,09 26 2005
The Daily Star
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