A minister landed unceremoniously in crying “conspiracy” after being recorded without his knowledge by a businessman with a troubled past from the West Coast. Here’s how the story started from Wednesday. This is obviously a little more complicated … story of the man by whom the scandal started: Patrick Soobhany, General Manager of Babylon Ltd.
You hesitated before accepting this interview. Why ?
(Tensed) because the media does not interest me. I did what I had to do, for me the story ends there. I do not want publicity. I do not like it.
What do you like ?
My family, my country, my work.
You have a sulfurous past …
(He breathes, thinks …) I am neither angel nor a saint. But I do not know either. Like everyone else, I happened to do bullshit, hanging out in the wrong places. I was young, I am 53 years old today, all that is gone. I have never done anyone any harm. Sulfur, no, that’s not me. I am a discreet, I hardly go out. All the hype came despite myself.
It is not the first time…
What do you mean ?
A young woman has accused you of rape? (Editor’s note, in 2007)
It was false allegations. Besides, the charge was removed, there was no trial. I was a victim of a set up, the mother of the girl made me sing for money. This painful episode is clear today.
It was when you returned from France, is not it?
That’s it. But I am a citizen of Mauritius, foremost.
How is your course of life ?
I was born and I grew up in Curepipe. Around the age of 8 years old, my family chose to settle in France, near Paris where I spent my teenage years, my studies and much of my professional life. In 2003, I returned to Mauritius. I managed a nightclub in Quatre-Bornes, the Queen’s. It closed and I diverted myself in real estate, as RES projects promoter. Our offices are in Black River. I employed fifteen people, five times more if one takes into account the indirect jobs.
Any. I do not make policy, it does not interest me. I vote, yes. SAJ’s speech on his determination to clean the country pleased me.
What prompted you to drop the famous soundtrack to the ICAC?
(He throws his forefinger forward) Donn la moné, pa existé kot mwa ! For twenty years I worked in real estate, I have never (presses) given a dime. There is no question that I enter this type of business after 50 years. Firstly, I refuse this blackmail, and secondly, I put loyalty above everything, even above the skill because skill can be acquired. Not loyalty.
Had you been dealing with Raj Dayal in the past?
Never. Monday is the first time I met him.
The famous soundtrack was registered the following day. Tell us more…
That’s how it happened. Friday 18 March, the Secretary of the Minister called me. Mr. Dayal wants to talk about my grind project at Gros Cailloux. Appointment is taken for Monday afternoon at his office. Immediately, he said. “Rakont mwa ki morselman to pé fer.” I explain that it is a 250 lots, each land of a minimum of “9 perches”. “Pa asé, bizin minimum 12 pers,” that’s what he told me. For me, my goal is to be accessible to the middle class Mauritian, then 12 ps …
Finally, the minister wants to visit the site. He gives me an appointment at the evening there, around 6PM. (He pauses and mark a long pause) The meeting will happen at 18:30. At that time, I did not really understand the interest of a night tour, but hey, I’m doing the tour.
At that time, did he request you a “support”?
He asked for money?
The ICAC knows … The minister did not stay long, maybe ten minutes. Before leaving, he gives me a new appointment for the next day. At his office, this time. “Amenn saki bizin, mo pou sign to dokiman” is what he told me.
This is what prompted you to record the conversation the next day?
Not only for that day. There are recordings of the others day we met too.
That is to say ?
The ICAC knows. The next day, out of my car, I put my mobile phone in the outer pocket of my briefcase. You know the rest.
When you came out of Mr. Dayal office, what did you do?
I was disgusted. I got into my car and I stayed there, prostrate. The conversation, for a good quarter of an hour was running through my head. After two minutes of reflection, I decided to go to see my lawyer, Mr Mohamed, who advised me to go directly to the ICAC. (On a confidential tone) In fact, concerning my lawyer, I went at his place for the form. My decision was made.
And 24 hours later, the minister lost his job …
(He blows) I never imagined it would take such magnitude. What I wanted was to get my license and do my job in the rules. I am not alone, I have vis-a-vis my personal commitments, they have families to feed. If I had accepted the minister’s proposal, I was losing on all fronts. First, this would have made me an off-the-law. Then I would not set a precedent. A million first and how much for the second time? I have other pending projects. But at no time did I think that the minister would be dismissed.
You are naive or you pretend?
(He raises his voice) I guarantee that I did not know what was going to happen. I even thought I might not go to ICAC again, but it turned against me.
Why are not you gone to see Mr Dayal with registration?
To be accused of blackmailing? It was the worst thing to do.
Today he accuses you of conspiracy …
It is grotesque (laughs). Before Monday, I told you, I had never seen this man in my life. I have absolutely nothing against him. It’s just unfortunate what happened today. Moreover, I learned later that he had already given the green light to the project.
How did you experience the rest of the week?
It is complicated…
That is to say ?
I do not want to go into details.
Have you received intimidation and threats?
Have you received any threats?
I’d rather not talk about it. (Sec) You can understand that or not?
Are you afraid ?
I should, you think? (He smiles, thinking) Fear, yes, to be blacklisted. I have other projects to go through the same steps. What will happen now? Maybe they will want to charge me. Maybe there will be reprisals.
Are you preparing yourself?
No. If they did that, it would be terribly unfair.
Do you regret what you did so far?
I have no regrets, I did what I had to do and what my conscience told me. If it encourages other Mauritians to denounce the unacceptable, great. This is the aim, too, of my approach.
Is there a possibility that you withdraw your complaint?
Any. The victim in this case, it’s me, not the minister. It is me who risk losing everything. Politicians, themselves, still fall.
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