- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

RABAT, Morocco - Silver cutlery, crystal carafes and glasses bearing the monogram of the late monarch, Hassan II, are finding their way into secondhand shops, pilfered from the royal palaces spurned by King Mohammed VI in favor of more “normal” homes. For the first time, the Moroccan press is talking about it.

Thieves — often former employees — repeatedly have targeted royal residences in Agadir, Marrakesh and Rabat in the six years since the death of King Mohammed’s father, under whose reign the palaces remained forbidden cities.

“It’s nothing new, but before people did not talk about it,” said a restaurant owner in Rabat.

“Until the start of the 1980s, it was difficult if not impossible to report the ‘excesses’ of a minister, an official or a governor, let alone to think of writing an article about the excesses of royal palace officials or about thefts from these palaces,” the independent daily newspaper Assabah reported Saturday.

Like Maroc-Hebdo, many dailies have only halfheartedly reported the thefts and have not broken the taboo on the royal family’s fortune, particularly as King Mohammed, dubbed “King of the Poor” by an aide, has begun his national initiative for human development.

Only one weekly, Tel Quel, dared publish a report in January on the wealth of the king and his late father, Hassan II.

In the latest episode of palatial plundering, a dozen persons have been arrested over the theft of valuable items from the king’s Rabat residence.

Some of the spoils — 347 crystal glasses, 63 bowls, 64 plates, six carafes and a gold dagger — were found in a warehouse at Temara, a coastal resort nine miles south of Rabat, the capital. A chauffeur from the palace, a shopkeeper from Rabat and a Tangiers man suspected of receiving stolen goods were among those detained.

It was a small but treacherous theft, because one buyer of the royal monogrammed glassware was a prominent businessman known to be close to Moulay Hicham, an estranged German cousin of the king, a member of the press said.

“I just bought around 100 of these glasses a year and a half ago in a secondhand store. There were some for sale. I didn’t hide it from the police when they came to my house,” said Fadel Iraki, also a principal shareholder of a prominent opposition weekly.

Even if the thefts are not all politically exploited or exploitable, the growth in their number is unsettling and the authorities seem to have decided to stop the rot, particularly as these palaces are now designated as belonging to the public heritage and are managed by a government minister.

A Moroccan newspaper reported that a colonel in charge of Agadir’s royal palace was to appear in court yesterday accused of embezzlement, use of forgeries and falsifying documents. To avoid revelations in court, an informal settlement was expected to be reached: the dropping of all charges in return for a sizable payment from the suspected thief.

Also this month, a judicial source announced the arrest of 18 persons in the theft of “supplies” from the Marrakesh royal palace.

Suspiciously to some, one of those detained died on Sept. 3, although Marrakesh prosecutor Abedlilah Mestari denied to the press, quoting the autopsy report, that businessman Hassan Zoubairi, 39, died as a result of torture during police questioning.

For the Journal Hebdomadaire, however, which dedicated three pages to the story, Mr. Zoubairi died “for having stolen royal china.”

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