tainted friends

Madagascar: Rajoelina’s chief of staff charged with bribery

By Emre Sari, Olivier Caslin

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Posted on August 21, 2023 12:09

Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina in Antananarivo, 26 June 2021. (AFP/Rijasolo)
Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina in Antananarivo, 26 June 2021. (AFP/Rijasolo)

Romy Voos Andrianarisoa and her business associate Philippe Tabuteau face up to 10 years in prison over soliciting bribes for a Gemfields contract.

In yet another blow for President Andry Rajoelina, the Malagasy president’s chief of staff, Romy Voos Andrianarisoa, remains in custody and faces up to 10 years in prison on bribery charges. Candidates for the upcoming presidential election must announce their intention to run by 9 September.

This may be one scandal too many for Andrianarisoa, who was accused of being involved in the 2021 coup. The chief of staff was arrested in London on 10 August, along with French national Philippe Tabuteau, her business associate.

The next evening, the pair were charged with attempting to bribe mining company Gemfields, which had reported them to the UK National Crime Agency (NCA).

Fine or jail time

Andrianarisoa and Tabuteau’s indictment was confirmed on 12 August, following a hearing by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK. Despite an appeal by their lawyer, Kim Aiken of Rose Court Chambers, they will remain in pre-trial detention until their next hearing, scheduled for 8 September at London’s Southwark Crown Court.

Andrianarisoa, 46, and Tabuteau, 54, face heavy fines and a prison sentence of up to 10 years if they are charged by the British courts with “requesting, accepting or receiving” a financial or other advantage.

According to the NCA, the pair demanded £225,000 ($287,000) and a 5% tax stake in projects operated by Gemfields in Madagascar in exchange for mining licences.

Gemfields, specialising in the extraction and trade of precious stones (emeralds, diamonds and rubies, among others) and gold, is also the owner of the luxury jeweller Fabergé.

Listed in London and Johannesburg and present in Mozambique and Zambia, the mining operator has long been seeking to develop its activities in Madagascar.

Following the acquisition of Oriental Mining in 2008, Gemfields holds around 15 licences across the country but has not started mining.

Sour date

The coup that brought Rajoelina to the presidency in 2009 has kept the mining industry frozen. The moratorium on granting new mining licences that went into effect at that time was only lifted in May with the adoption of a new mining code.

This would explain the 10 August meeting at the offices of Gemfields in the Victoria district of central London. The NCA told The Africa Report that the accused were arrested just after the meeting, in their hotel, not far from the company’s headquarters.

Gemfields reportedly contacted the crime agency as early as April.

Andy Kelly, head of the NCA’s International Corruption Unit, said he was “grateful to Gemfields for bringing attention to this matter and for their ongoing cooperation with the investigation”.

Holiday cut short

On 14 August, the Malagasy presidency confirmed that Andrianarisoa had been relieved of the duties she had held since 1 March 2023.

According to the statement, she was officially on holiday from 9 to 22 August and ‘the Malagasy authorities do not know the reasons for her trip to the UK’.

The day before her holiday was due to start, the chief of staff was in Rwanda as part of Rajoelina’s official visit to President Paul Kagame.

Prior to joining the presidency, where, according to an observer, “she immediately imposed her own team”, including Tabuteau, Andrianarisoa held various positions in Madagascar’s private sector.

After spending a large part of her childhood in Russia, where her mother was an embassy attaché for 10 years, she returned to Madagascar in 2012.

Marx, Sankara and Rajoelina

Fluent in Russian and with several qualifications (such as an MBA in sustainable development from the UK, and a master’s in international business as well as in diplomacy from France), she joined Madagascar Oil, where she spent four years as corporate social responsibility manager.

Corruption can handicap the competitiveness of a company

At the same time, she was director of public relations and corporate philanthropy at the multi-sector group Filatex, before being the country’s manager at British Petroleum (BP) in 2019. From there she moved to the China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) when the British operator sold its blocks in the Mozambique channel to China.

From 2020 to 2023, she chaired the Commission on Sustainable Development and Business Ethics of the Groupement des Entreprises de Madagascar (GEM). In October 2021, she stated that “corruption can handicap the competitiveness of a company, a sector or even the country”.

According to various local sources, this friend of the Malagasy president, who studied Marxism as a child with her journalist father and often quotes Thomas Sankara, has been advising the head of state since his arrival at the Iavoloha Palace.

Coup query

The following year, she accompanied Naina Andriantsitohaina, then minister of foreign affairs, in his bid to become mayor of Antananarivo. Her name also featured prominently in the Apollo 2021 affair, concerning an alleged coup attempt planned against Rajoelina.

She is said to have kept close contact with one of the conspirators, Paul Rafanoharana, who is imprisoned in Madagascar.

No charges were brought against her at the trial, and she did not appear.

More recently, she appears to have played an active role in suing the Gazette de la Grande île newspaper, which had revealed Rajoelina’s dual nationality before closing its doors at the end of March.

Tabuteau in the shadows

In the shadow of this “ambitious woman”, to use the term preferred by the Malagasy press, Tabuteau is also far from unknown, although he does not appear on the presidency’s official staff.

Manager of Impact Capital, a Geneva-based company specialising in “strategic consulting and financial engineering in public and private affairs”, Tabuteau’s presence in Madagascar dates back to the late 1990s when he was an executive at French broadcasting house Canal Plus.

In 2006, he was campaign manager for Elia Ravelomanantsoa, the former minister of culture, who was running for president at the time and won 2.5% of the vote. His name then appeared in 2017 in Guinea, in an embezzlement case concerning electronic cargo-tracking forms in the port of Conakry.

Tabuteau then joined forces with Andrianarisoa at TF 261, an agency specialising in sustainable development. He organised the first Indian Ocean Sustainable Development Conference in November 2022, under the patronage of Malagasy prime minister Christian Ntsay.

Election tension

Andrianarisoa and Tabuteau’s arrests come just a few months before the first round of presidential elections, scheduled for 9 November, for which Rajoelina has until 9 September to announce his candidacy. It is evidence of the noxious climate that prevails in the country as the elections draw closer.

Disruptive police action has been reported during various rallies organised in recent weeks by former presidents Marc Ravalomanana and Hery Rajaonarimampianina, as well as by MP Siteny Randrianasoloniaiko, all of whom are considered the incumbent president’s strongest rivals.

If indeed Rajoelina is permitted to stand for election.

Embroiled since June in the scandal that followed the revelation of his French nationality, acquired in 2014, and which calls into question his eligibility, the president – and with him the whole country – is waiting for his Malagasy nationality certificate that will allow him to run for a second term.

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