“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” such were the words uttered by Martin Luther King in 1963 from Birmingham prison. Across borders and time, those words will ring forever true as they carry within the very essence of what justice is – a yearning for equity and vindication.
When Yemenis took to the streets back in 2011, they did so in the hope that they could overcome tyranny, corruption, nepotism and injustice. Beyond calls for political reforms and social justice, it is an entire nation which came together to demand vindication following three decades of dictatorship. The recovery of Yemen looted funds was meant to bring Yemenis a sense of closure, an achievement which would serve as a springboard for future generations; proof that order had overcome chaos and fairness corruption.
Endowed with a renewed sense of hope and under Yemen’s Arab Spring impetus the coalition government decided to give in to people’s calls for judicial retribution with a promise that all corrupt officials would be made to return the country’ stolen assets – In September 2012, AWAM was born.
Following 30 years of pandemic corruption, Yemenis eventually saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
But mapping out Yemen looted funds would not prove as easy or as straightforward as many would have hoped. From the shadows, the deep state has managed to derail justice once again, preventing any real progress.
When Dr Abdullah al-Maqtari, a founding member of the committee told reporters in Sana’a that, “The authority [AWAM] will work to develop a national comprehensive strategy to recover the looted funds and take all legal actions to ensure the participation of the local and international community and the civil society organizations to detect the looted funds and restore it,” little did he realise that it would be the very officials who helped created AWAM who will endeavour to roadblock its agents. Backed up by both the international community and the political class, Yemen National Authority to Recover Looted Funds was meant to be the cornerstone of Yemen’s recovery. Only bad habits die hard.
But one activist has held true to his calling, determined to expose Yemen’s former regime dirty little secrets; putting his very life on the line to shine the truth on what he believes could be the only lifeline left to a country on the verge of financial collapse. Since 2013 Mogib Hassan has fought tooth and nails to expose Yemen ‘state organized crime.
Tracking former President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s money
At AWAM inauguration conference in September 2012, Mohammed Somaih – General Coordinator – explained what goals the new national agency will strive to achieve: Create public awareness and encourage members of the public to come forth with information, promote anti-corruption values, and finally return public funds back to the coffers of the state. But in a country such as Yemen where corruption has eaten away at all institutions, perverted state officials on every echelon of the power ladder, exposing dishonesty is a complicated affair.
Of all the officials whom AWAM suspect to have embezzled public money, former President Saleh and his immediate family members – sons, brothers and nephews – have been highest on the list of priorities due to the sheer magnitude of their takings. Mogib Hassan, who has acted as AWAM international relation and coordination officer since 2013 and as such, has been privy to all sensitive information uncovered and gathered in relation to all corruption cases enquiries, exclusively told Al Monitor that while others prominent dignitaries such as Sheikh Hamid Al Ahmar – from the powerful Hashid tribal clan, Yemen most important tribal faction – or General Ali Mohsen Al Ahmar –the former Commander in Chief of the 1st Armoured Division – had abused their positions for financial gains, their thievery did not hold a candle to that of former President Saleh.
Back in 2011, at the height of Yemen’s revolutionary movement western officials estimated Saleh’s fortune at over $27 billion. According to Abdul-Ghani Iryani, a Yemeni development analyst, who too, has been tracking Saleh’s money, has estimated that the former president managed to skim off an average of $2 billion per annum from the country’s oil subsidies program. He believes Saleh’s fortune to stand at over $32 billion.
While Mogib was not able to reveal the extent of Saleh’s massive wealth since the dossier has yet to be discussed in a court of law, he confirmed that Yemen’s former strongman’s taking largely exceed $10 billion, almost as much as Yemen national debt: $12.56 billion.
“Should former President Saleh be forced to return all stolen funds, Yemen national debt would be wiped out. Yemen’s pending economic collapse would be averted and most importantly Yemen’s hunger crisis would be solved (over 45% of Yemen 26 million people have been classified as food insecure by World Food Program),” Mogib told Al Monitor.
Saleh’s financial empire is absolutely mind-boggling: farms, large land holdings across Yemen’s many provinces, real estate in the UK, France, the US and the Middle East, Swiss bank accounts, offshore accounts, gold, cars, precious antiques, luxury cars … the list goes on.
But despite a detailed inventory and proof that such wealth was illegally amassed, the authorities have not yet dare bring the matter to justice. Worse, officials have conspired to prevent activists such as Mogib Hassan to do their work, most often than not through threats of physical reprisals.
Political apathy or organized cover-up
According to Mogib, Yemen’s officials are failing in their duties. The very men and women who should be acting a barrier to inequity and corruption have allowed criminals to sow terror. Three years into Yemen’s transition, unscrupulous powers are using the same silencing techniques as the former regime.
Mogib Hassan’s life stands in the balance. As those words are being sent to print, the group which has been relentlessly terrorizing him, pushing to refrain him from speaking the truth on high ranking officials’ dealings, remains at large, protected by corrupt bureaucrats.
His main fault remains his determination to see former President Saleh and others like him, be held accountable for the money they embezzled.
Mogib who, with the support of Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhour managed to cut through some of the Interior Ministry’s red tape in order to command attention to his predicament, has now reached a dead end as powerful forces have worked to throw off his case.
He calls now directly on Interior Minister Major General Abdo Hussein Al Tarab, to personally overview his case and guarantee that justice will follow its course. “All I have ever done is dedicate my time and my life work to Yemen … I was commissioned to do a job and this is what I have done … and yet the government has offered me no protection. I wish to speak for all those who, like me, have been abandoned, forced to fend for themselves because officials lack the courage to stand up to criminals,” said Mogib Hassan.
Mogib’s attackers, whose names have been already given to the Interior Ministry and cannot at this moment in time be revealed, since the case is pending judicial review, happen to be under the protection of the powerful Al Khossee clan. Fadel Al Khossee, Mohamed Yehya Al Khossee and Esam Al Khossee have all, according to Mogib, worked to protect the men who have made his life a leaving hell.
Al Khosse’s brothers have all denied any knowledge of the matter.
But the plot runs deeper yet. If one can understand that unscrupulous officials would want to cover their tracks and silence those who would attempt to expose them to the world, what of the men and women who should use their position to protect their staff from such intimidation and threats?
While Mogib Hassan benefited from a modicum of protection from the Human Rights Ministry on account that he knew Minister Mashhour from previous work experience, other state bodies, mainly the Interior Ministry, have completely and utterly bailed on their responsibilities.
Upon his return from London (UK) in September 2013, where he attended a special work session relating to the looted funds of Yemen under the umbrella of the G8, World Bank, the United Nations and the UK Foreign Ministry, Mogib received a series of phone threats from then-unknown sources, warning him that his digging into former President Saleh’s finances were unwelcomed.
Mogib’s uneasiness was made worse by a reprimand he was given back in London by Yemen Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Abdulla Ali al-Radhi. Recalling Mogib’s critical analysis of former President Saleh’s alleged financial corruption, the Ambassador stressed, “You should know that Yemen has passed an immunity law, which is recognized by all parties,” hinting that Mogib should stay away from Saleh’s corruption dossier.
“This is when I realised that Yemen’s old guard would do everything in its power to prevent me from doing my job, even if it meant killing me … But I will never be made to back down. My work at AWAM is too important. We are talking about the future of an entire nation here, not just my well-being. Billions of dollars are on the line, which billions belong to Yemen,” Mogib Al Monitor, adamant he will neither stop nor waiver in his pursuit of justice.