[Opinion] The razor sharp skills of the conjurer in amassing wealth through unconventional means
What can be said about Vishnu (Wilkinson, Lurch, Wilko, Razoir, etc to people who know him well...) that has not been said already? A lot, actually.
"Where do the evils like corruption arise from? It comes from the never-ending greed. The fight for corruption-free ethical society will have to be fought against this greed and replace it with 'what can I give' spirit." - A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, ex President of India.
What can be said about Vishnu (Wilkinson, Lurch, Wilko, Razoir, etc to people who know him well...) that has not been said already? A lot, actually. The architect of the wilful and criminal destruction of BAI/Bramer, with the not insignificant help of Basantee Roi, the governor of the Bank of Mauritius, and the subsequent disposal of Dawood Rawat's assets at bargain basement prices to friends and supporters, will forever cast a dark shadow on our naive impertinence to call ourselves a democracy where the Rule of Law is supposedly of paramount importance and where private property is meant to be considered as sacred. And the active collusion of our courts and our wonderful magistrates, judges, DPP, ICAC in perpetuating the vile injustice by the cruel harassment and insane prosecution of Dawood Rawat's daughters, Adeela Rawat-Feistritzer and Laina D. Rawat-Burns, and sons in law will remain forever a stain on our so called independence and objectivity of the judiciary.
Vishnu is the comeback kid of Mauritian politics with a desperate need for the whole population to suffer from collective amnesia in order to forget the numerous allegations made against him when he was Minister of Finance in the 1980s. Any criticism of our Wilko is met with the inevitable response that it is ' une campagne de bas etage le visant'. I have taken the imagery of bas etage further, and have done some research on the financial wizard who reshaped the Mauritian economy as well as his own financial situation within a few years as a minister.
The provenance of the fortunes amassed by our politicians can be compared to Winston Churchill's description of Russia in 1939 that "it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma". During the late seventies and early eighties, Vishnu was involved with the organization of outside fairs at the Ministry of Industry and Commerce; it is fair to say that he did not come from a comfortable background. In 1982, he was living in rented accommodation in Sodnac, and used to drive an old Renault 12. All of this was to change from 1983 when SAJ appointed him as Minister of finance, a post he held on until 1990. In 1984, he bought a modest house in Vandermeesch Road, Rose Hill; shortly afterwards, he bought a substantial plot of land in a very desirable quarter of Beau Bassin where he built a walled, gated mansion that seemed incongruous with a ministerial salary at that time of under Rs 20,000 per month, especially with the expenses of having three young children to care for. Anyone wishing to buy that mansion now is unlikely to see much change out of at least Rs 50 millions. No conjuror could possibly spin financial wizardry on such a scale to amass wealth that is miles away from his declared income. But LutchMerlin did, and he rode serenely like a seasoned professional through the waves of scandals alleged by his political opponents.
His main political adversary during those days was Paul Berenger, the 'Marxist Revolutionary' who apparently was single handedly responsible for the May 68 upheavals in France and the subsequent removal of General de Gaulle from power…Berenger made all sorts of allegations against Vishnu and accused him of amassing a fortune through corrupt means. His oratorical skills knew no bounds during one public meeting at Beau Bassin in 1987 when he alleged that Vishnu wanted to emigrate but could not find a plane large enough to carry all his money…There were other allegations about the removal of duty on electrical goods and how that vital piece of information had somehow reached one particular importer who also happened to own a stable of race horses...
But these were allegations only and were never subjected to the rigours of the law or to a credible Commission of Inquiry. Berenger was true to his life long habit of making all sorts of allegations when he is in opposition and then never doing anything about them when he came to power in 1991,1995, and 2000. He coined the nickname Rasoir, not to honour Vishnu's latent skills as a barber, but to mock and condemn his apparent ease of manoeuvre to enrich himself in the cut throat world of Mauritian politics. An editorial in Le Mauricien of 5th December 1998 used its traditional mixture of verbal dexterity and linguistic finesse to encapsulate the true nature of corruption at the highest level of our political world; it is well worth another look as it shows that plus ça change, nothing ever changes in Mauritian politics....oh for the return of such a gifted pen to the columns of our stale and moribund newspapers!
Lors d'un récent dîner entre hommes d¹affaires, alors que le retour d¹un grand corrompu notoire au devant de la scène politique était évoqué, ces messieurs s'amusèrent à faire le compte de ce qu¹ils avaient, personnellement, dû remettre à cet individu. Et, là, dans cette espèce de vérité crue qui s'établit entre hommes qui ne sont pas très fiers d'eux-mêmes, les commensaux conclurent qu¹ils avaient donnés Rs 200 millions à ce champion toute catégorie de la corruption pour la décennie 80. Certains parmi les dîneurs étaient des gros, des très gros. Mais il n'étaient qu'une dizaine. Et leurs projections leur permirent de penser que, si on faisait le compte de tous ses prélèvements, il serait possible de conclure que son passage aux affaires a valu à notre homme un enrichissement personnel de Rs 500 millions. Anerood Jugnauth et Paul Bérenger savent parfaitement de qui nous parlons ici. Avant même que leur fédération ne se présente devant l'électorat, accepteront-ils qu¹un tel symbole de corruption rende suspectes leurs promesses de redressement national.
Some readers can justifiably argue that the above is merely a list of unfounded allegations of financial impropriety; so, let us move on to something that is based on documentary evidence, and I shall leave the sceptics to compute the mathematical probabilities of splashing such a financial outlay on a salary of around Rs 20,000 per month.
Le Cerisier Ltd is a company which was previously owned by Fon Sing, and on 10th January 1988 had two directors: 1/ Danesh Lutchmeenaraidoo, who was 10 years and 10 months old at the time 2/ His mother, Suzanne Lutchmeenaraidoo. They both declared in 2006 that the registered office of Le Cerisier Ltd is situated at Suite No 704, Chancery House, Port Louis, an address that was then occupied by Yatin Varma. On 18th July 1989, Le Cerisier Ltd purchased 2 concrete bungalows, a servant quarters, and an office existing on a plot of land of 96 perches forming part of Pas Geometriques Mon Choisy, from a company called Budget Holidays (Int) Ltd, and the rights to the lease from a company called Compagnie Sucriere de Mon Choisy Ltee. The property was purchased for Rs 2,030,960 and financed with a mortgage from the British American Insurance taken on 31st May 1990 for one million rupees.( Yes! the same BAI that the Lurch called a Ponzi 25 years later! Nimaak Haraams come in all shapes and sizes, with or without a sharp razor blade in Paradise Island...). At that time, Vishnu was earning approximately Rs 20,000 monthly as finance Minister. Assuming a conservative interest rate of 15% at that time, his monthly repayment for that mortgage (capital and interest) could not have been less than Rs 16,000 per month. His prudence as Minister of Finance probably stemmed from his incredible ability to raise three children on less than Rs 4,000 a month whilst simultaneously coping with the running costs of that mansion and finding the remaining Rs 1 million for the purchase price…
How much annual rent was he paying for almost one acre of prime coastal state land? Certainly not the Rs 5 million premium and Rs 250,000 annual rent that lesser mortals have to pay now. You see, he did what all politicians schooled in the art of grabbing public property for themselves and their friends do: he got an industrial lease! Therefore his annual rent up until June 2008 was a shameful Rs 57,000. And as the purchase was done via the two companies (à la Dinesh Ramjuttun, and many others, who sold his tenancy of OUR State land to Anil Caullee of Fire Mount Company for Rs 50 millions...), he paid no taxes at all. Anyone else at that time, i.e. plebs like you and I, would have had to disburse 13.2% of the purchase price to the Treasury.
Such a stroke of good fortune can be attributed to serendipity if it happens once; twice, and it looks like a willful attempt to servi nous pays whilst contributing nothing to the national coffers. This is exactly what happened when Le Cerisier Ltd sold the lease to the Mon Choisy property in 2008 to a company called Reisi Ltd, owned by Louis Philippe Claude Denis Le Breton for the sum of …Rs 35 million, which is made up of Rs 23 million for the buildings and Rs 12 million for the lease of our land. One of the main conditions of the sale is that Reisi Ltd 'will have the option instead of buying the property, to be a new shareholder of the company Le Cerisier Ltd and to buy back the shares of the existing shareholders'. This means that, as we all know, no land transfer tax and no tax on the transfer of rights in State land lease will be paid, as the purchase and sale of shares in Paradise Island at that time remained outside the ambit of the fiscal authorities. This has resulted in a loss of a few million rupees to the Treasury. Doesn't it make you proud to see our rich citizens behaving with such selflessness?
Since his return to active politics following the longest period of 'meditation' by a politician in recorded history, Vishnu has never missed an occasion to tell us about his heartfelt compassion for the poor and his concern over the widening gap between the rich and the poor in Mauritius. Of course, he has not told us that one of the major reasons for this level of disparity that would shame a banana republic is the ability of the rich to bypass the fiscal laws so that their contribution to the national cake is proportionately insignificant. He is the man who wanted to do away with income tax completely, a progressive system that taxes people according to their ability to pay, and to replace it instead with VAT, a system that taxes everyone the same regardless of their individual income.
In an interview in 2008, Vishnu claimed that "J'adore vivre et je vis bien. Un bon vin, un bon repas. Je suis un épicurien... Je ne suis pas attaché aux choses matérielles". You have to admire such chutzpah from someone engorging himself on the fruits of the poisoned tree to that extent. He even boldly claimed that "en fait, j'invite meme les critiques desquelles tant de choses utiles peuvent en découler".
This post is in response to that invitation, and I hope that he will now address just one of those choses utiles: How does a man living in rented accommodation in 1983 and running a jalopy manage to catapult himself to multimillionaire status within a few years? A wealth to the extent that his erstwhile friend and leader, Berenger, called him "L'homme le plus riche de L'Océan Indien".
No wonder the chap keeps talking in that fake spirituality of his about 'la grace divine' or la benediction divine'. He must really have a special God that he prays to, and which had offered him a bonanza winning lottery ticket when lepep admirab made him Minister of Finance in 2003...and repeated the amazing offer when he was made minister of finance again in December 2014, a stint in high office that is significant for only three events: 1/ A budget in 2015 that gave the incredibly rich landowners another bonanza of tens of billions of rupees as a result of the exemption of land conversion tax for their stupid smart cities/IRS/RES etc. 2/ The destruction of BAI/Bramer and theft of Dawood Rawat's assets which means that we will all have to soon pay him the Rs 40 billions he is seeking in compensation 3/ The shameful Goldfinger episode which allowed a minister of finance to get a massive Euro loan at an interest rate that defies all belief from the nominees that he himself has placed in the bank, and which scandalously, neither ICAC nor the DPP nor Basantee can find anything wrong or that even remotely comes under conflict of interest...
A.P.J. Abdul Kalam's aphorism at the beginning of this post is especially true for our serviteurs du pays: It is never ending greed that compels our already rich politicians and officials to be never satisfied with the huge amounts of money that they already have. In a tragic parody of Oliver Twist, they keep telling Lepep Admirab, "Please Sir, I want more"... And the real tragedy is that they do get more because our institutions, our courts, our 'free and independent' press allow them to get away with it.
By Paul Lismore
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