Pursued in London, the former chief of staff of the Malagasy president found guilty of corruption

The trial of Romy Andrianarisoa ultimately did not take a political turn

Pursued in London, the former chief of staff of the Malagasy president found guilty of corruption

The trial of Romy Andrianarisoa ultimately did not take a political turn. On Tuesday February 20, a jury at Southwark Court in London found the former chief of staff of Madagascar's president, Andry Rajoelina, guilty of demanding bribes from British mining company Gemfields in exchange for facilities for obtaining licenses and operating authorization on the Big Island. But never, during the two weeks that the trial lasted, was the responsibility of the newly re-elected leader of Madagascar mentioned.

Romy Andrianarisoa stuck, in his defense, to denying the evidence and trying to accuse his associate, the Frenchman Philippe Tabuteau. This clearly did not convince the twelve jurors, who unanimously concluded, in a few hours of deliberation, that she was guilty with her co-accused of having demanded 250,000 Swiss francs (approximately 260,000 euros) in two payments , 10,000 dollars (9,260 euros) each immediately and a 5% stake in the mines, worth approximately 4.7 million euros.

The indictment was simple. Gemfields wanted to open ruby ​​and emerald mines in southern Madagascar. His first contacts with Romy Andrianarisoa took place in 2021. At the time, she was working on her own after spending a decade in the hydrocarbon sector (Madagascar Oil, BP). In this capacity, she worked as an informal advisor to the president, notably to reform the mining code. She then displays an impeccable CV: in 2017, she completed an MBA at the University of Nottingham, specializing in corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSR) issues in the extractive industries in Madagascar.

“Charles”, undercover agent

In March 2023, a few days after becoming the president's chief of staff, the Franco-Malagasy, now 47 years old, restarted contacts with Gemfields. She quickly asked her friend Philippe Tabuteau, a Frenchman living in Antananarivo and whom she had known for more than twenty years, to take care of the file.

Understanding that the two negotiators are demanding illegal payments, Gemfields alerts the British agency against organized crime, the National Crime Agency (NCA). From April 2023, an undercover agent, “Charles”, posing as a consultant to the mining company, continues the discussions, recording all conversations. This led to the spectacular arrest in the Sofitel London St James palace, on August 10, 2023, of Philippe Tabuteau and Romy Andrianarisoa, as they finalized the negotiation of bribes.

Caught in the act, the Frenchman pleaded guilty. But to everyone's surprise, the chief of staff chose to deny it. During the trial, however, the evidence against her was heavy. In recordings, he is clearly heard saying: “I want the revenue to go to my country, but I have to earn a living too. » She also negotiated step by step a first initial payment suggested by “Charles” as proof of goodwill. “$5,000,” he offers. “10,000,” she responds straight away. “We need to find an agreement quickly before you go to 15,000,” laughs the undercover agent.

The chief of staff will return to this amount later, apologizing for “not having been clear”, to explain that she was asking for 10,000 dollars “per person”. “Of course, my name will never appear, as you might expect,” she adds in another conversation. And when “Charles” suggests that the sum of 250,000 Swiss francs be paid in precious stones, she lets Philippe Tabuteau be very open: “We accept Swiss francs, precious stones, gold…”

Up to ten years in prison

Despite the recording of the meetings, the telephone conversations and the numerous messages and emails, Romy Andrianarisoa tried to plead the misunderstanding. Certainly, she recognizes having been “clumsy” in her comments and understands that they could be misinterpreted. But, she assures us, her English – the language in which the negotiations were carried out – is not perfect and she can sometimes express herself poorly. So, when the boss of Gemfields introduced “Charles” to her as being a “firewall”, she assured that she did not know this word and did not understand what it was about.

When she talked about fees or payment, she claims, it was always in her mind about expenses the company had to make on the ground, in preparation for the project; absolutely no payments directly into his account. “When I came to London [on August 10, 2023], it was to negotiate the social investments that Gemfileds had to make. » Finally, and above all, she puts everything on the back of Philippe Tabuteau, who was not present at the trial, having pleaded guilty – a fact that the judge had forbidden to reveal in order not to influence the jury.

In passing, Romy Andrianarisoa recounts a disturbing element in the functioning of the negotiations. Her government could not afford to pay Philippe Tabuteau as a consultant, she said, so the advisor expected Gemfields to recruit her friend and pay him in one way or another. In her mind, she tried to argue, the negotiations only concerned the Frenchman's fees, never hers.

Did President Andry Rajoelina play a role in this matter? One of the recordings of the conversations puts him at a good distance. During one of the negotiations, “Charles”, visibly trying to obtain more information, asks the chief of staff if the head of state is aware of the fees being negotiated. “No”, answers Romy Andrianarisoa unambiguously. She never returned to this question during the trial.

The sentence will be pronounced for Philippe Tabuteau and Romy Andrianarisoa at the same time, on March 18. They both risk a maximum of ten years in prison, but the Frenchman will see the severity of his sentence reduced by a third because he pleaded guilty, thus facilitating the work of justice.