Morocco’s ‘$65-million’ real-estate swindle
02 Apr 2020

“Give us our money!”, demands a group of home buyers, standing on land that should by now be finished condos — one of many fictitious projects that together comprise what is described as Morocco’s biggest-ever property scam.

Adverts on state television had promised dream homes at three for the price of two, while brochures boasted of ornately carved wood finishings and copious marble.

But it was all a fantasy — more than 600 million dirhams (about 57 million euros, $65 million) allegedly disappeared, leaving more than 1,000 buyers out-of-pocket, according to one of the lawyers representing them.

In a country where corruption is endemic, the unprecedented scale of the alleged fraud has generated political waves.

Called upon by deputies to address the issue in parliament, Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani said the government was absolved of any blame, provoking indignation among defrauded investors who have appealed to King Mohammed VI.

The man accused of being at the forefront of the scheme has been charged and is in detention awaiting trial.

But the vast scam has prompted major questions about alleged negligence and complicity of some Moroccan institutions.

Mohamed el Ouardi, as head of the Bab Darna group, allegedly received advances for apartments that never made it beyond the paper they were drawn on.

“The swimming pool would have been just over there,” scoffs would-be apartment owner Soufiane, aged in his 40s, as he points across a building site in the commercial capital Casablanca.

Bab Darna consists of a group of firms that cashed advances from “at least 1,000 victims” who invested in around 15 fictitious real-estate projects in and around Casablanca over a decade, Mourad el Ajouti, one of the lawyers for the investors, told AFP.

The money was allegedly embezzled by cashing “advances ranging from 20 percent” to the full cost of the apartment, he added.

‘Who protected him?’

Houria, 49, who works in e-commerce, said “highly persuasive sales agents” proffered a golden opportunity and swayed her into advancing 400,000 dirhams; 20 percent of the cost of a villa.

But the vendor “had neither the title deed nor construction permit”, el Ajouti said; basic requirements lacking in all contracts signed by the investors.

Such practices did not prevent Bab Darna from exhibiting with great fanfare at real-estate shows in Casablanca, Paris and Brussels.

“The authorities were not aware (of el Ouardi’s activities)?” asked Houria, dumbfounded.

“Who protected him?”

Read more by Agence France-Presse via Bangkok Post

Photo (cropped and edited): Bengt Nyman/CC BY 2.0

RiskScreen: Eliminating Financial Crime with Smart Technology

Advance your CPD minutes for this content, by signing up and using the CPD Wallet

FREE CPD Wallet