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JUSTICE, PRESS REPORTS, A VERY MAURITIAN AFFAIR

JUSTICE, PRESS REPORTS, A VERY MAURITIAN AFFAIR

IS JUSTICE BEING SERVED IN MAURITIUS?
THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF MR SINCLAIR AND MS BOUDET

 

 

While the attention of many persons in Mauritius and around the world is riveted on the current supreme court proceedings concerning the tragic death of Michaela McAreavey, another drama is being played out in the district court of Mapou which may prove to be as revealing about the hidden malaises of the Mascarenes.

In April 2011 the Mauritian press was suddenly galvanised by rumours swirling around a French citizen living on the island, Stéphane Sinclair. Resident on Mauritius for several months, he had become involved in a number of worthy projects to protect the cultural heritage of the island, the Plaza in Rose Hill, and a book about a distinguished member of the Wiehé family to name but two. However, questions were being asked about exactly what was his area of expertise and background. Was he an expert in museology, was he a historian, or simply a man with an IT background who had acquired an interest in cultural heritage? Did it matter?

It began to matter very much to a number of persons involved in the maintenance of public and private archives and museum collections on the island. They claimed to have received a visit from Mr Sinclair, brandishing a document which purported to come from the Prime Minister’s office entitling him to obtain information about the contents, and in one case even the budget of their institution or collection. It was around this time that another French citizen, the journalist and author Catherine Boudet, from Réunion, but settled on Mauritius, took the matter further.  Acting on evidence supplied by as yet unnamed informants, on 12 April 2011 Ms Boudet made a declaration before the police to the effect that Mr Sinclair was in possession of important documents which did not belong to him, and that he was planning to leave the island with them, and should be issued with an ‘objection to departure’. A cursory examination of Mr Sinclair, by the police, failed to substantiate these allegations, however, and he was allowed to board his flight. The tables were now turned on Ms Boudet – insinuations were made that she was simply a woman spurned, seeking to take revenge, allegations that she, in turn, refuted, denying categorically that she had ever been in an intimate relationship with Mr Sinclair. Worse was to come. Ms Boudet was accused of making false and malicious declarations against Mr Sinclair, arrested on 20 April 2011 and spent a night in the cells.

Several months passed during which time Mr Sinclair returned briefly to Mauritius before taking up residence in the United States, and Ms Boudet remained on the island. The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that complaints had been received about the behaviour of Mr Sinclair and that he had not been directly mandated by them, as he had apparently claimed. On the other hand, Ms Vijaya Teelock of the Aapravasi Ghat Trust Fund sprang to his defence, asserting that he had been acting as a ‘consultant’ for the organisation under her charge. Mr Johann Wiehe similarly refuted suggestions made in the press that family documents consulted by Mr Sinclair for their co-authored book had been purloined.

On 12th June 2012 Ms Boudet was formally charged with the offence of “false and malicious declaration”. This is a very serious matter, but will, one hopes, enable some elucidation of this curious affair. Will Mr Sinclair return to Mauritius to give evidence against Ms Boudet? Will she be shown to have simply been acting according to the ethics of investigative journalism? The conclusion is an important one for Mauritius where so many “zones d’ombre” persist over the motivations and actions of politicians and state-funded socio-cultural institutions, and there seems to be a lamentable lack of proper investigative journalism to uncover abuses of power at all levels. Among the issues that one would like to see discussed are exactly why the AGTF felt it necessary to hire Mr Sinclair to act as a ‘consultant’ in their quest to gain access to archive collections and what light does the police ‘investigation’ throw on the role of the forces of law and order in this matter, particularly concerning the misogynistic deduction that Ms Boudet was acting out of personal spite rather than out of journalistic concern. On the other hand, Mr Sinclair has a right to defend his good name if he has been wrongly accused and the press coverage has more than a whiff of xenophobia about it, which is cause for concern in itself. Nevertheless, the issues one would like to see addressed go far beyond the rights and wrongs of the two individuals concerned.

Please send us your comments and views on this case and related matters, and we look forward to providing a further update in due course.

While we are on the subject of the justice system in Mauritius, readers may want to take part in a survey on the subject: www.surveymonkey.com/s/KVV8SFV

 

Bibliography of the ‘Sinclair/Boudet Affair’ so far:

‘Un faux expert culturel français démasqué’, L’Express, 09.04.11.

‘Smart Frenchie’, Le Défi Plus 09.04.11

‘Une journaliste accuse un consultant français d’avoir ‘pillé les archives’, L’Express 13.04.11.

‘Escroquerie alléguée : La mère de Sinclair témoigne’, L’Express 14.04.11

‘Soupçonné d’avoir falsifié des documents un Français autorisé à quitter Maurice’,  Le Matinal 14.04.11

‘Accusé de vols d’archives : Ce mystérieux M.Sinclair’, Le Défi Plus, 16.04.11

‘Le “faux” docteur en histoire’, Week-End, 17.04.11

‘Accusé de vol d’archives nationales Stéphane Sinclair nie être un fugitif’, Le Défi Quotidien, 18.04.11

‘Escroquerie Intellectuelle Alléguée: Arrestation de la journaliste Catherine Boudet aujourd’hui’, Le Mauricien 20.04.11

‘Arrêtée pour fausses allégations’, Le Matinal 21.04.11

‘Pour fausse déclaration contre Stéphane Sinclair La journaliste Catherine Boudet arrêtée et détenue’, Le Défi Quotidien, 21.04.11.

‘La journaliste Boudet passe la nuit en cellule’, L’Express 21.04.11

‘Caution de Rs 5 000 à la journaliste Catherine Boudet’, Le Mauricien, 21.04.11

‘La journaliste Catherine Boudet libérée sous cautions’, Le Défi Quotidien, 22.04.11

‘La journaliste Boudet s’évanouit en cour’, L’Express, 22.04.11

“Sinclair n’a pas travaillé pour l’AGTF” L’Express Samedi, 23.04.11

‘Affaire Stéphane Sinclair/ Catherine Boudet : Interrogations’, Le Défi Plus 23.04.11

‘L’affaire Sinclair: La journaliste Catherine Boudet arrêtée’, Week-End, 24.04.11

‘N’oublions pas Catherine Boudet’ Le Défi Quotidien, 26.04.11

‘Affaire Stéphane Sinclair : Le bureau du PM confirme que des faux ont été utilisés’ Le Défi Quotidien 04.05.11

‘Règlement de comptes’, L’Express Dimanche 08.05.11

 

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