x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Bahrain minister denies criminal charge

Mansoor bin Rajab is accused of a multi-million dollar money laundering scheme.

MANAMA // A Bahraini cabinet minister who was temporarily detained last week, accused of orchestrating a multi-million money laundering scheme, has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to continue his official duties while investigations continue. It comes only days before parliament is expected to release a report on corruption that the opposition could use to bring some ministers for questioning and possibly propose to hold no-confidence votes on some of them.

The minister of state, Mansoor bin Rajab, and his office manager were detained on Thursday, according to a statement by the interior ministry, which said the detention followed a year-long investigation into Mr bin Rajab's activities that involved monitoring of the official and his aides in and outside Bahrain. The money laundering scheme is reported to exceed US$12 million (Dh44m). "The suspicious activities of the official came to the authorities attention in early 2009," the statement said, quoting assistant under secretary for legal affairs, Brig Rashid Bu Humood.

The statement also said the case was transferred to the public prosecutor's office after the ministry interrogated the suspects and carried out searches of their homes and Mr bin Rajab's offices. Mr bin Rajab and his aide both denied the charges on Friday. The minister, who opened his house on that day to receive visitors in his weekly majlis, also denied ever being charged and said he had fully co-operated with the authorities and answered all questions they had regarding him and his staff.

"I did not appear in front of the public prosecutor and I was not charged with anything," Mr bin Rajab said, adding that he had authorised the searches of his premises and instructed his staff to co-operate with the authorities. He said he had returned to carry out his duties as a minister following his detention and questioning and said he will be taking part in today's weekly cabinet meeting unless instructed otherwise by the government.

Mr bin Rajab's office manager also denied being charged and said he appeared in front of the public prosecutor as a witness and not a suspect, and that no charges were brought against him. The public prosecution has refrained from commenting on whether cases had been brought against the suspects, with the ministry of interior not commenting beyond its initial press release. Sources, however, had revealed that western security agencies, including the French, had co-operated with the Bahraini authorities to uncover the alleged scheme after the initial discovery by Bahraini authorities.

Reports that appeared in the daily Al Ayam newspaper suggested that the scheme spanned Dubai, Kuwait, Iran, and Switzerland. The paper also said a woman was arrested in Kuwait in connection with the charges, while there were independent unconfirmed reports that a Bahraini man was also arrested in Dubai. In May 2008 Mr bin Rajab, who was earlier a member of the appointed upper house of the National Assembly, was one of two ministers to be quizzed by parliament over financial, administrative and constitutional irregularities before being cleared.

The 55-year-old continued to head the municipalities and agricultural affairs ministry, which he was appointed to in late 2006, for five more months after his May questioning. He was later appointed as a minister of state in a limited cabinet reshuffle. If prosecuted on the charges raised by the ministry of interior, Mr bin Rajab will become the first minister accused of criminal wrongdoing in the Gulf island state since it gained independence from Britain in 1971.

However, more of his fellow ministers could also be facing corruption charges in parliament this week when a report on corruption, titled "State Properties", is presented on Tuesday. Opposition Al Wefaq party MP Jawad Fairooz, who heads the Public Utilities and Environment Committee, described the report yesterday as the most important to be carried out by parliament since parliamentary life was restored back in 2002.

"The deputies are in a historic position to defend the report and its findings, and are in a position to take serious and honest steps to recover looted state property and take action against the negligent ministers by bringing them up for questioning and having the vote of confidence be withdrawn from them by the house," he said. mmahdi@thenational.ae