Below are the circumstances under which I have worked in Algeria on Panama project and the making-off of the two investigations I carried out together with you on the Swiss account of the Minister of Industry and Mines; namely, Abdessalam Bouchouareb, and the offshore companies of Najat Arafat, wife of the former energy minister; Chakib Khelil.
The Starting Point:
I thought about probing into the Industry Minister, Abdessalam Bouchouareb, affairs in the aftermath of the leak of the Panamanian firm documents; Mossack Fonseca, that provides offshore companies for thousands of customers worldwide. The Algerians are not an exception to these fraudulent practices, and the leaked documents have revealed dozens of Algerians names. Processing the documents related to the offshore company of the Minister Abdessalam Bouchouareb has nevertheless revealed that the company served as a screen for a Swiss account. As for the probing into the affairs of the wife of the former energy minister, her name appeared in the documents concerning Farid Bedjaoui and Omar Habour. The review of these documents put me on the track of Najat Arafat that I explored by cross-checking these information with others contained in other court documents in my possession.
Methodology and Difficulties:
I proceeded with these two investigations following the method of investigation by hypotheses.
At first, I checked the most of the information found in open sources on these two persons (Bouchouareb and Arafat) before formulating hypotheses about and going for documentary evidence to back them. I tried then to get in touch with them to confront my information with their side of the story. I also interviewed, regarding Bouchouareb, a multitude of people to verify certain information.
Regarding Bouchouareb, most of my work was based on the documents of Mossack Fonseca in addition to interviews. I also cross-checked some information with those obtained by two French colleagues who published a book on the properties of Algerian officials in France, including Abdessalam Bouchouareb. I even moved to his native region (Ain M’Lila, 500 km East of Algiers) where I have contacts that allowed me to know a little about his family. I benefited from the collaboration of a source in the National Centre of Trade Register who helped me to check information about companies to which he is associated. Especially as the interview I conducted with the proxy of the Minister allowed me to better understand the nature of the offshore company and the purpose of its creation. All of this happened in a relatively short time (about three weeks).
I did not faced many difficulties in my search for information on Bouchouareb, yet I was surprised by the attitude of the staff of the newspaper for whom I was working at the time, namely (Liberté), who refused to publish the investigation under the pretext that it will poison the already worse relations between the owner of the Journal, Mr. Issad Rebrab and the Minister Bouchouareb.
Indeed, instead of answering the questions I emailed him, Bouchouareb tried his luck with the Editor of the newspaper Liberté, with whom he has weird relationships, in order to block the publication of my investigation in this newspaper. Thus, five days prior to 04th of April, I had to look for a publisher.
I proposed my investigation to two Algerian newspapers that did not reply. Then I tried with the French newspaper Mediapart that published it without any reservation.
For Najat Arafat, the difficulty for me was to get into touch with her. Especially since the newspaper I joined after my resignation from Liberté, which was initially willing to publish the article, has backtracked. So, I had to propose the article to the newspaper Le Desk (Morocco). In this regard, it should be noted that my investigation on Bouchouareb inaugurated the partnership between Mediapart and Le Desk for mutual publication. It was indeed an old expected partnership, not limited to Panama Papers, that, by chance, my article has inaugurated.
On the whole, the public opinion has taken over the debate on the revelations of both investigations. Most of the Media took up my information and discussed them extensively. The same goes for the opposition political parties. And even if the court considered it unnecessarily to focus on the subject, the investigation has greatly affected the concerned persons image before the public, national and international opinion, especially regarding Bouchouareb.
However, I suffered some form of lynching likely sponsored by the persons mentioned in my investigations and carried out by anonymous pens.
Indeed, Ministers; Bouchouareb and Khelil, have cried wolf and denounced a conspiracy hatched from abroad against the government, and their media relay accused me of being manipulated by foreign powers. Anonymous persons have signed articles to challenge the authenticity of documents (Panama Papers), bluntly accusing me of making them up. Some accused me of working for financial lobbies; others have treated me as an agent of the Moroccan Makhzen or even of Zionism. These articles published under pseudonyms in unscrupulous media without any ethics that are close to both Ministers; Bouchouareb and Khelil, have put me under some pressure, especially that I am always working on the project Papers Panama and I still have some investigations ongoing.
Of course, these attacks are not able to affect my morale or discourage me.
For the investigation on Bouchouareb, most of the documents were of the Panama Papers. Otherwise, I based my work on interviews. As for Najat Arafat, and given the delicacy of the subject, I only used these documents: besides to Panama Papers, the judgment of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court on the request for evidence made by the Algerian judicial authorities, and the balance sheet of Saipem for 2015 (copies attached), and the Italian judicial documents related to the case Saipem.