Morocco always shows us its true colors during troubled times, and to be sure, that train is never late.
Take for instance yesterday’s announcement by the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) that their participation in the forthcoming African Nations Championships (CHAN) to be hosted by Cameroon from early April, has effectively been withdrawn following the declaration of the COVID-19 as a pandemic by The World Health Organisation (WHO).
This knee-jerk reaction flies in the face of the more measured statements being attributed to CAF and elsewhere, the IOC and Japan, who are expected to host the Olympic Games later this European summer.
It would have been interesting to see their reaction had their National U23 team qualified for the Olympics in Japan.
Morocco effectively becomes the first African country to withdraw from the continental competition despite having its own FA President Fouzi Lekjaa as CAF 2nd Vice-President and member of CAF President Ahmad Ahmad’s kitchen cabinet.
Whilst it is expected that certain holding statements would be made and some events temporarily shelved until the World gets a grip on the rapid spread of this novel Coronavirus (aptly named COVID-19 to differentiate it from the other Coronaviruses, namely, MERS and SARS).
Morocco however, replicated their overreaction to the 2014 outbreak of
the devastating Ebola Virus in West Africa (Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea) when they unilaterally withdrew their hosting of the 2015 AFCON.
These games were relocated to Equatorial Guinea which hosted a classy event despite the short notice, while the Court for Arbitration in Sports (CAS) let Morocco off with a slap on the wrist (long story) for its desertion of the Premier competition for Africa.
To try and compare the devastation of Ebola to that of COVID-19 would be akin to comparing death to a deep sleep, especially considering that the epicenters of the COVID-19 disease seem to be in China and Europe, with only a handful of cases reported in Africa.
Even where they have been reported in Africa, they appear to afflict those of European or Asian origin.
So the question begs itself to be asked, what the hell is all the panic about in Africa?
Morocco continues to baffle and bewilder Africa with its double-standards towards the continent when you remember how in 1987, the country walked away from the African Union (then known as Organisation of African Unity) following its decision to recognize the independent albeit disputed State of Western Sahara, which remains forcefully annexed by Morocco to date.
In a show of contempt for Africa, Morocco then made formal request to the European Union to join as a member, even though the application was rejected on geographical grounds.
It wasn’t until 2017 that the AU accepted Morocco back into the fold despite the outstanding issue of Western Sahara, an issue which came to bite them in the ass just two months ago, when Morocco hosted the Futsal AFCON in the Western Sahara city of Laayoune, and South Africa withdrew their participation on ethical grounds, opposed to the continued colonization of an African territory by another African country.
South Africa was immediately replaced by Mauritius in the tournament.
What is clear though, is that Morocco will always view the rest of Africa with a mild tolerance, as you would a retarded child, in all its dealings. Nowhere is this reality more nuanced than in continental football.
By the time FRMF President Fouzi Lekjaa took up his position in the CAF Exco in 2017, he was immediately rewarded with the seat of CAF Finance committee Chairman.
He then engineered the inclusion of 10 of his own countrymen in all the critical standing committees of CAF, thereby giving him immense clout and leverage in virtually all decision-making processes within the organization.
Lekjaa even arranged for his dentist friend Mouad Hajji to be hired as an assistant GS, a position not envisaged in the CAF statutes, but whose role was to shadow the late former CAF GS Amr Fahmy, and keep Lekjaa apprised of anything and everything that transpired in the secretariat.
Conveniently, when Amr Fahmy was edged out of this position by CAF President Ahmad, it was Mouad Hajji who naturally stepped in to become the substantive GS of CAF until two weeks ago when he abruptly resigned and vacated his position in Cairo, without notice or handover.
We now know that the reason Mouad Hajji sprinted for the exit at CAF and high-tailed all the way back to Morocco was to avoid the questions that were being asked by FIFA auditors PWC, who were sent to Cairo to do a supplementary audit following the discovery of serious breaches in the International Financial rules and more specifically, the disappearance of $24 million from CAF coffers.
At the very least, shouldn’t the Chairman of the CAF Finance committee, CAF 2nd VP and Morocco FA (FRMF) President Fouzi Lekjaa make himself available to the auditors at all times during this enquiry?
Lekjaa really has a lot to answer for in the financial affairs of CAF for the period after the March 2017 elections, because none of the transactions flagged by PWC as dubious, could have gone ahead without his authority and signature.
We understand the absolute panic among the Moroccans, because the answers to the questions being asked by the PWC auditors are a direct line to the FIFA Ethics committee. The auditors have likely been asked to tie the missing funds to individuals who can be held personally liable for its disappearance.
Obviously no one informed them that absence from office does not stop the auditors from reconstructing the books adequately, especially where bank accounts are concerned.
However, one other critical Moroccan has managed to fly under the radar in all this missing $24 million hullabaloo, and it is none other than Chairman of the Audit and Compliance committee Tarik SijilMassi, who would ideally be charged with ensuring that CAF systems and finances are managed in accordance with International Finance standards.
Tarik Sijilmassi also just happens to be the President of the giant Moroccan Bank Crédit Agricole Maroc (CAM), and he was appointed by the 40th General Assembly of the CAF, which was held in Casablanca 2018.
At this GA, Lekjaa regaled the 53 other members of CAF with tales of the CV of Sijilmassi and his professional exploits that made him extremely suitable for this position.
Sijilmassi was a member of the Steering Committee of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) and he was in charge of the sensitive issue of the transition from sports associations to public limited companies in charge of professional football activities.
How can the CEO of CAM which is 75% state-owned, with 15% held by insurers Mamda-MCMA and 10% by the Caisse de Dépôt et de Gestion – be associated with the loss of $24 million from CAF where he is in charge of audit and compliance? How can he have allowed his reputation to be used by his countryman Fouzi Lekjaa to sanitize this theft of money, unless of course, he will also be directly implicated in it by the PWC audit?
How does a direct appointee of King Mohammed VI and who makes up part of his formal delegation, which included a return into the African Union in 2017 be seen to sanction the looting of another continental body, in a big “fuck you” to all other member countries of the AU, remembering how Morocco left the OAU in a huff during the 1980s and sought to join the EU.
One thing is very clear, that CAF President Ahmad could not have pulled off this $24 million heist without the aid of his Moroccan enablers, namely Fouzi Lekjaa, Mouad Hajji and Sijilmassi Tariq.
Article 17.7(k) of the CAF statutes makes it mandatory for the Audit committee to present its report to the General Assembly annually, while article 30 of the same statutes explicitly defines the role of the Audit committee thus;
“The Audit Committee shall ensure the conformity and reliability of the CAF financial accounting system and review the external auditors’ report and audit the CAF administration on behalf of the Executive Committee”.
Many will remember here that CAF leadership did not present audited financial statements to its General Assembly for the first two (2) years of the Ahmad era, instead lumping them together and having Finance Committee Chairman Lekjaa, make a PowerPoint presentation of them at the last Ordinary General Assembly in Cairo last July.
Even this presentation was in breach of the statutes because the statutes call for the audited accounts to be circulated to members at least 30 days preceding the General Assembly.
For PWC to have found serious systemic weaknesses in the accounting system at CAF that allowed the misappropriation of $ 24 million, implies that the audit committee (and especially its Chairman Tarik Sijilmassi) failed miserably in its role or colluded with the Finance committee in several ways.
For example, to allow CAF to go for 2 whole years without audited accounts being presented to both the Exco and the General Assembly can only mean that these senior officials went out of their way to conceal the looting of the $24 million.
And herein lies the irony of African (especially sub-Saharan African) FA Presidents, that by being bribed with $20,000 each annually, they happily stayed quiet as a few individuals took $24 million of their funds.
It points to the view that the Moroccans Lekjaa, Mouad and Tarik Sijilmassi hold of black Africans, that they can easily be swayed with peanuts, and they will let you have your evil way with them.
How can the President of a bank with a total balance sheet of more than 107 Billion Dirhams, be trusted to be a good steward of these resources, when clearly he is unable to take care of a mere $100 million CAF reserves, while doing his football hobby?
Is this the man who can take CAM into an IPO or at the very least convince investors to take up equity in the bank that would allow it to expand its base?
Is the money for the Moroccan small farmer safe in his hands, if his tenure at CAF is anything to go by?
What is the difference between “le petit fellah” in African football and one of the Moroccan farmers he swears to care so much for?
This man is walking paradox and he has allowed Lekjaa to use his reputation to sanitize the theft of CAF funds, or maybe he knows more than he is letting on…
They should all be held to account for this heinous crimes against the people of Africa.