Stunned Bahrain looks for answers, facts after unprecedented minister’s arrest on money-laundering charges

March 19, 2010
By

Manama

Stunned Bahrainis were on Friday seeking information and answers in the aftermath of the arrest of a sitting minister, the first since Bahrain became independent in 1971.

Still reeling under the dramatic developments around Al Wefaq and the ire it drew from some MPs and media people for its perceived faux-pas at its annual general assembly and the subsequent onslaught on the British ambassador to Bahrain for his alleged interference in Bahrain’s domestic affairs, Bahrainis were not ready for the news that a minister who enjoyed the full trust of the leadership would be detained on charges of alleged money-laundering.

Although the interior ministry statement about the arrest on Thursday evening mentioned an official, Bahrainis learned from the country’s various online forums that the man held by the security authorities was State Minister Mansoor Bin Rajab.

“We are shocked by the arrest because we are not used to the idea of a minister being arrested. We really do not know how to think because it is all novel to us,” said Tariq, an accountant. “I still hope that he can clear his name because we are rather used to seeing him in a leading position and as a leader of a religious community centre,” he said.

An academician who at one time worked with the detainee said that he was stunned by the news of the arrest.

“Here we have a man who has a highly respected family name, a good position and excellent connections with all sections of the Bahraini society. Yet, he allegedly got unnecessarily involved in an illegal activity that would destroy all the work he has piled up over the years,” he said.

Writing in a forum, Hafaniya wondered whether the common law would be applied to the minister. “Is the same law that applies to common people also applicable to ministers?” she asked. “Would there be stringent legal action against him for the money-laundering crimes or would he be just dismissed?”

Mahmood, one of Bahrain’s finest bloggers who was once dragged into courts by Ben Rajab over an online comment, suggested several factors that could be behind the arrest. It could be that “the government is signaling that they are serious (again) about combating corruption,” he wrote. “Whatever it is, like the rest of Bahrain, I will wait for clarifications and an outcome of this case, if any. One thing I will guarantee you though: watch this situation being played with sectarian notes.”

For Eyad, another blogger, “whoever the minister, this is a good thing for Bahrain by all measures, and will be highly praised by all.”

“It is a big step forward and hopefully a start in the right direction. I hope this does not turn sectarian and people should see it as it is,” he wrote.

In another forum, a blogger signing as “Bahrani Who Makes Sense” said that he was upset by the unhappy end to the minister, but added that it would be deserved if he was really involved in money-laundering operations.

Some bloggers allowed their imagination to rush to draw ties between the minister and some other countries and foreign forces, claiming that he acted as their middle man in laundering money and assets in Bahrain to allow them to sell drugs and buy weapons. Others, more concerned with reality on the ground, wondered why it took the security authorities more than year to raid the home and office of the minister and subsequently arrest him.

According to the police, the official was detained following months of investigations and close monitoring. No figure was released about the amount of money involved in the laundering amid speculations that it was in millions of dollars.

Al Waqt daily said that the National Security Agency on Thursday accompanied the minister from his home to his office where agents conducted a thorough search and called in his aides for further investigations.

The minister was quizzed by the NSA and later by the interior ministry’s anti-economic crime unit that oversees cases of money laundering.

In a brief statement, the interior ministry said that an official has been arrested on the charges of money-laundering operations inside Bahrain and abroad.

Brigadier Rashid Bu Humood, the ministry’s assistant undersecretary for legal affairs, said that the authorities first noticed the suspicious activities in early 2009 and kept monitoring the suspect’s activities, meetings and communication with his aides and with the contacts abroad.

Bahrain in 2001 became the first country in the Arabian Gulf to issue a law that laid down the “legal principles and framework to ensure the disclosure of any suspicious financial activity.”

Manama is the seat of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF) tasked with tackling the threat posed by money laundering and terrorist financing to countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.

         

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About the author

Born August 3, 1960 in Monastir, Tunisia
Career
Media career:
  • ABC News (Tunisia)
  • Bahrain Tribune
  • Gulf News
  • Bahrain Television News
Teaching career:
  • Monastir (Tunisia)
  • University of Bahrain
Education
  • MA  Mass Communications, University of Leicester
  • BA  in English & US literature and studies, University of Tunis

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