Victoria – Seychelles – November 19 marked the two-year anniversary of the appearance of Seychellois businessman Mukesh Valabhji and his wife Laura, a lawyer, before the Supreme Court on charges of money laundering. The couple, arrested a day earlier by police, have been on remand since their initial court appearance. This high-profile case involves allegations of laundering $50 million, a sum granted to the Seychelles’ government by the United Arab Emirates in 2002.
According to Seychelles News Agency, the funds were transferred to a bank account of the Seychelles Marketing Board (SMB), now known as the Seychelles Trading Company (STC), to a Baroda bank account in England. Mukesh Valabhji, then managing director of the SMB and executive chairman of COSPROH, a state-owned enterprise that owned several hotels, is alleged to have overseen the return of the funds to Seychelles for the privatisation of the COSPROH holdings.
The case, investigated by Seychelles News Agency (SNA), has seen several developments over the past two years. A search of the Valabhji residence led to the discovery of a cache of arms, resulting in the arrest of Leslie Benoiton, a senior officer in the former Seychelles People’s Defence Forces, now known as the Seychelles Defence Forces. This discovery led to a separate case regarding the possession of these weapons.
In addition to the Valabhjis, former high government officials Maurice Loustau-Lalanne, Leikha Nair, and former First Lady Sarah Zarqhani Rene were arrested in connection with the missing $50 million. While Nair and Loustau-Lalanne were later granted bail, Rene remained in police custody due to the high bail amount set.
On May 6, the money laundering case was transferred to the Office of the Attorney General after limitations in the powers of the Anti-Corruption Commission of Seychelles (ACCS) were identified. Following amendments to the Anti-Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism Act 2020, charges were amended, leading to the release of some accused, including former First Lady Rene. However, the charges concerning money laundering against Laura Valabhji were withdrawn pending further investigations, but she remains on remand in relation to the firearms and prevention of terrorism case.
The arms and ammunition trial, involving the Valabhjis, Benoiton, Payet, and Marie, commenced on December 1, with the corruption case’s initial trial date set for April 13, 2023, later moved to May 11, 2023. The ACCS announced that the corruption case will resume once the illegal arms case concludes.