The One-Eyed War against Corruption in Bahrain: Chasing minor suspects of corruption while senior officials enjoy impunity

The Elected Members in the Council of Representatives and Municipality have to carry out their Responsibilities and not withhold any Information related to Corruption cases, Otherwise they are Associates in It

The Role of Media and Civil Society Institutions has to be activated to Fight Corruption

10 January 2010

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights is observing with grave concern and worry the double standards with which the Authority is dealing with corruption cases, and the apparent discrimination in the methods of dealing with the suspects in those cases. At a time where the smaller suspects in cases related to corruption are imprisoned and exposed both in the local newspapers and government media before even issuing any court ruling against them, and contrary to the principles that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, and imprisoning some of them in an arbitrary manner contrary to the reasonable period of detention for interrogation, and the ambiguity surrounding the charges brought against them or the laws they are based upon; yet on the other hand – and contrary to the rights of the individuals that they are equal before the law and their right to equal protection without any distinction or discrimination – on the other hand the leading officials accused in cases of corruption who received bribes or have taken over public lands remain not only on the loose but are clinging to their posts in complete impunity from monitoring or legal questioning, as they are either members of the ruling family or they are closely allied to one of the pillars of the regime.

In an unannounced campaign launched by the Deputy King and Crown Prince of Bahrain Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al- Khalifa to fight corruption by making a group of subsequent press releases that are against corruption, and threatening the corruptors of the justice that will reach them, and the statements which were accompanied with some arrests of a group of officials in several government institutions or state-owned companies, and some of those arrests and detention processes were carried out in an arbitrary and exaggerated manner just to prove the credibility of this campaign against corruption and against the manipulation of public funds; however, all these cases and claims that were investigated only targeted by interrogation or detention of the middle and junior officials only, and it did not dare to reach the main people who remained on the loose all the time, maintaining their high posts in the state. These double standards in dealing with the cases of corruption and corruptors weakened the credibility and seriousness of this campaign led by the Crown Prince against corruption, as it did not reach the main deficiency and it did not exceed the red lines, and they are the untouchables and are immune individuals who are the main ones responsible for all these cases.

The claims and cases related to corruption and which were raised in the last couple of years in Alba Company[1] can be an example of this double standard approach in executing these laws. Some of the Bahraini newspapers[2][2] published a news piece that was sent by the Public Prosecution to the Bahraini newspapers stating that it had issued orders to arrest the officials in the marketing department in Aluminium Bahrain (Alba), on the charges of receiving commissions from a foreign company in exchange for reducing the sales price of the company’s products[3][3]. The Public Prosecution initiated the investigation with the defendants and they are two of the small officials in the company, the two defendants were kept in detention and undergone investigation for a period exceeding 8 months, and they were not informed of the nature of the charges against them or what the laws that these charges are based on. They were released on 5th June, 2008, after their health had deteriorated because they got infected with the dangerous tuberculosis disease[4][4] due to them mixing with one of the infected inmates[5][5]. Since their arrest, all their bank accounts and members of families’, including the minors’ bank accounts as well were frozen; their monthly salaries were suspended and their freedom to dispose of their properties was restricted. The arrest and detention campaign was followed with a smear campaign against them before issuing any court ruling that condemns them, and this campaign started since their moment of arrest and even before the interrogation started, either through the statements sent by the Public Prosecution which did not include their names, or through the leakages that were instigated here and there, and the intention of conveying it to the public opinion from various sources including the alleging company. It was apparent that some of the government bodies were working on convincing the public opinion at that time of the seriousness and firmness of the authority in this campaign to eliminate corruption, as well as to fulfill some of the requirement that is needed for some free trade agreements that was sign or to be signed like the one Bahrain did with the US government.

Most of the investigation with the suspects revolves around doubts that they received commissions from a mediating foreign company in exchange for reducing the sales price of the company’s products, and the institution accused of paying those commissions is the Swiss Glencore International AG[6][6] a global commodity trader[7][7]. What is surprising is the company’s contradicting performance in this file, as the Bahrain Aluminium Company (Alba) had struck a deal with this company that is accused of paying those commissions, and that deal states that Glencore International AG becomes the exclusive marketing agent to sell the company’s ( Alba ) products in the Asian countries. At a time where the company rewards the accused company ( Glencore International AG ) by striking this deal, those suspects in Bahrain face trial with the above mentioned charges.

In another case related to corruption in the same state-owned Bahrain Aluminium company (Alba) run by a called Bahrain Mumtalakat Holding company, the Wall Street Journal[8][8] published in several stories at different times, a news piece that states that the Aluminium Bahrain Company (Alba) filed a civil lawsuit to the specialized Federal Court in the United States against the ALCOA American Company[9][9] regarding immense corruption processes represented in that the company and for 15 years specified supply contracts to a group of companies founded by a consultant that holds the Canadian passport, and he is a partner of (Alcoa) as a secret way to pay the illegal commissions in order to get the tenders of providing (Alba) with the alumina substance, and that (Alba) paid two billion dollars more than the price in the market, in return for transferring that money as commission to the former Bahraini official, who is the former Minister of Oil and member of the King’s family Sheikh Isa bin Ali Al-Khalifa[10][10]. Despite the magnitude of this case, no investigation or lawsuit was initiated against this official, and that Alba company or the Mumtalakat that runs it, who had presented other people to court on charges relating to corruption and receiving money as commissions, had totally overlooked its responsibility in filing a criminal lawsuit in Bahrain against the above mentioned minister as he is a member of the ruling family. Yet, his work as a advisor for the Prime Minister in a rank of minister was not stopped, especially that this case exceeds a hundred times the former one in the magnitude of presented amounts of money and the clarity of charges, and even the Public Prosecution which is considered a branch of the judiciary did not carry out the role it is assigned to as an impartial judiciary body, and it did not initiate any lawsuit although this case is considered one of the largest corruption cases in the history of Bahrain. This civil case was accompanied with several lawsuits or criminal investigations that reached the same issue outside Bahrain and specifically in the United States and Europe, but the government of Bahrain who was the main loser turned a blind eye to all that as if the matter did not concern it.

Since the current King of Bahrain came to the throne, the process of appointing members of the ruling family occupy high executive ranks in the government or owned or run by the State institutions, companies and administrative boards accelerated. Those posts are given to them as privileges enjoyed by the ruling family away from their academic or professional background, or ability to hold those posts. For the first time, since the independence of Bahrain, the percentage of the members of the ruling family exceeds the total number of Sunni and Shiite citizens in the Council of Ministers[11][11] and around 50% of the board of directors of those companies that belong to government. This policy contributed in the spread of favoritism, tribal and accessibility factor in the government institutions and bodies on the expense of proficiency, professionalism and perfection at work which is no longer considered the standards used for the gradual growth of career in these institutions, and this had a large impact in flaccidity and poor performance and production of many of the government institutions. What is worrying in this matter as well is that those individuals, as they are members of the ruling family, are not subjected to monitoring or questioning usually, and there are no records that any of them was presented to court on any charges relating to corruption or bad administration, Bahrain is even considered one of the few countries in the GCC that has not presented any of the members of its ruling families to court, in a time where it is considered the most one which has members of the ruling family dominating the vital posts in the country, as well as its executive, economic and judicial bodies. The policy of Khalfana[12][12] that is happening to the vital posts in the state has led to that the majority of these government institutions, run by them, become in full impunity from questioning, monitoring and financial and administrative accountability.

While Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, King Deputy, Crown Prince, and President of the Economic Development Board and who is the first economic official in the governing body and who is responsible for initiating the campaign against corruption, had stated at an earlier time, ‘The campaign against corruption will not exclude anyone, and the hands of accountability and justice will reach any minister or official if he is proven to be involved in any case of corruption’[13][13]. However, the Bahraini authorities or the property institutions did not commit to these statements and dealt in apparent double standards in this case as opposed to the former ones and where the suspects were minor employees, in order to immune the above mentioned official from the hands of justice.

It became known today that the eminent officials in the country, and members of the ruling family, are participating in large investment projects that depend on taking over wide areas of public lands, and especially in the lands buried from the Bahraini beaches in what is estimated to have a value of billions of dollars, while the general budget and the states potentials are used to provide infrastructure to those privately-owned enterprises. Note that the Bahraini constitution prevents combining the public job with the private investment work.

While the Council of Representatives formed a investigation committee in the buried lands, and several MPs presented the case of overtaking state lands by influential figures, and the members of the municipal councils disclosing a large quantity of information relating to that, neither the Council of Representatives nor the members of municipal councils announced until now the information they have or the results they reached, and none of the officials have been questioned yet. They believe that the dominance of the influential figures in the state institutions, and the fear of the MPs and municipal councils from their influence, the publishing of any of that information or taking any procedure against those figures will be banned.

In light of the failure of the elected representatives of the people in treating the case of corruption or even exposing it, the media and civil society institutions specialized with human rights and transparency remain either pursued or prohibited from work, activity and expression or they are subjected to the influence and power of the influential figures themselves which makes their role marginal in treating corruption.

At a time where the Bahrain Center for Human Rights welcomes any course to eliminate corruption which includes the campaign of the Crown Prince Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa, it yet believes that dealing with cases of corruption with double standards will weaken the credibility of this campaign, and any intention to fight corruption has to begin from the top by stopping the senior heads from depleting the state funds and it capabilities, this course if taken will give more public support and credibility in front of the local and international public opinion. The BCHR recalls the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states, ‘All people are born free and are equal in dignity and rights’.

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands that the principle that all individuals are equal before the law should be respected and promoted, as was stated in the first paragraph of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that states, ‘All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.’ At a time where the BCHR believes in the necessity of eliminating corruption, it calls for the caution from exaggeration or arbitrariness with the suspects of minor employees or exposing them in the media in aim of convincing the media of the gravity of this campaign. The first paragraph of Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.’

The Bahrain Center for Human Rights demands that public liberties should be released and especially the ones related to the press and the non-governmental bodies that should play a major role in fighting corruption or stopping the restrictions against them by trials or indirect punishments. It also demands the members of the municipal councils and Council of Representatives to take the responsibility and trust granted to them by the people to reveal, disclose and fight the corruption process otherwise they are associates in the corruption if they are proven to be negligent in carrying out their legislative and monitoring responsibilities in fighting corruption or if they were proved to cover up information relating to corruption.

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[1][1] Aluminium Company owned by the government of Bahrain

[2][2] Alwasat, Issue number: 1839 | Wednesday 19 September 2007

[3][3] Alwasat Newspaper http://www.alwasatnews.com/1838/news/read/253045/1.htm

[4][4] http://www.alwasatnews.com/2068/news/read/292891/1.html

[5][5] Alwasat Newspaper http://www.alwasatnews.com/2100/news/read/298746/1.html

[6][6] Glencore International AG http://www.glencore.com

[7][7] Alwasat Newspaper http://www.alwasatnews.com/2375/news/read/40975/1.html

[8][8] The Wall Street Journal – Role-Reversal: Bahraini Firm Sues Alcoa, Alleging Corruption – February 28, 2008

[9][9] ALCOA American Company is the largest alumina producer in the world and the third largest producer of aluminium, and it used to provide Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) with the alumna substance, and it is the main substance used in making aluminium, since the establishment of the company in 1971 http://www.alcoa.com/global/en/home.asp

[10][10] The Wall Street Journal – Alcoa Faces Bribery Probe After Bahrain Suit – Published March 21, 2008

[11][11] http://www.bahraninet.net/showthread.php?t=39489

[12][12] The sons of Al-Khalifa, and which is the ruling family in Bahrain, taking over the place of the Bahraini citizens

The Wall Street Journal, page B6 - Alleged Kickbacks at Glencore Probed - http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123639633890259917.html

[13][13] Alwasat Newspaper http://www.alwasatnews.com/1849/news/read/254985/1.html