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Prominent Bahraini minister Mansoor Bin Rajab, who denied involvement in a money-laundering scheme, was sacked by the King.

 

Earlier, the minister was questioned by police before being released. According to Al Ayam daily, the minister was released on the grounds of his health.

 

Addressing visitors to his weekly majlis (open house), Rajab, a state minister without portfolio, said that he had been summoned by the interior ministry to answer questions about his ministry staff. Bin Rajab refused to comment on the status of the director of his office who was also questioned by the authorities on the alleged charges of money-laundering and which, according to reports, amounted to more than 12 million Bahraini dinars (over US $30 million). According to Al Ayam daily, the director could be charged of money-laundering, covering money-laundering operations, cooperating with a foreign organization and divulging information to a foreign country. Under Bahrain's laws, money-laundering charges carry sentences of up to 15 years. Quoting unnamed sources, Al Ayam said that the money-laundering operations extended to Bahrain, Kuwait, Dubai, Iran and some European countries and that one woman has been arrested in Kuwait in relation with the scheme.

 

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. Bin Rajab, 55, was an appointed member of the Shura Council (upper chamber of the bicameral parliament) before he was appointed minister of municipalities and agriculture in December 2006, following the parliamentary elections. He kept the post until October 2008 when he was made Minister of State in a limited cabinet reshuffle.

 

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." The capital, 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.

 

The King relieved the minister on March 23. Shortly afterwards, a media ban was imposed by the Bahrain authorities on the story.

 

March 19-23, 2010

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk

 

The questioning of the minister was the first time in Bahrain’s history that a sitting minister was questioned by police.

 

Initially, if the questioning led to a conviction, then it would be seen as a serious effort by the Bahraini authorities to tackle corruption, which is rampant in most GCC states. However, it is believed that the King’s decision to sack the minister is as far as he will receive in terms of punishment and that the case will likely be closed. This is because it appears that high-ranking officials, including members of the royal family might be implicated in the scandal. It therefore appears that the case will be covered up, especially that the government has imposed a media ban on the story.

 

The series of events have raised question marks about Bahrain’s seriousness to tackle corruption. It may resort to targeting lower ranking officials, like what Dubai and other Arab states have done, in an attempt to divert attention from higher ranking officials. However, now that part of this story has been made public and withdrawn and covered-up so abruptly, it will likely give political ammunition to opposition and civil rights campaigners. In addition, Bahrain’s credibility as attempting to tackle corruption has been severely shaken.