“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”, asks the Roman satirist Juvenal in his magnum opus Satires. The connation, as is wont to be, is entirely different from the Platonic attributes the phrase, who will guard the guards themselves, held. In modern democracies, the Platonic guardians to whom the phrase once applied, is supposed to be the civil society or rather they act thusly. So, what happens when the supposed guardians themselves start acting against the society and the nation, who is supposed to ask question then? Who is supposed to keep them in check? Who is supposed to guard the interest of the society against these guardians?
One such supposed guardian is French ‘anti-corruption’ ‘watchdog’, Sherpa. Sherpa is recently in the news for filing a complaint seeking clarifications from the Financial Prosecutor’s Office in the Rafale deal. Despite every allegation of financial or procedural impropriety in the Rafale deal being demolished, why would Sherpa which proclaims its “mission to protect and defend victims of economic crimes drawing on the power of the law and to fight against the new forms of impunity linked to globalization”, file such an absurd complaint in the Rafale deal, transparency of which has been established over and over again? The clue to the motive of this complaint in Rafale deal lies in the organisation’s history and more importantly that of the man behind the organization, controversial French lawyer and Founder of Sherpa, William Bourdon. In gentle terms, the organization and William Bourdon can be described as publicity hungry entities with questionable financial dealing with a history of frivolous lawsuits which have often backfired.
The Mauritanian Quagmire
Probably one of the major cases of Sherpa and William Bourdon is their involvement in what can be termed as a political tussle in Mauritania. Sherpa brought a lawsuit against Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz which was essentially bankrolled by Aziz’s political opponent and his cousin, Mohamed Ould Bouamatou. The allegations were unproven and Sherpa did not follow through on this. However, the relationship Bourdon and Boumataou developed endured. Both were board members in a firm called Foundation for Equal Opportunities in Africa, founded by Boumataou. Although, their political ambitions in terms of Mauritania did not come to fruition, Sherpa benefitted greatly from this relationship. According to the International Policy Digest, for the year of 2015 Sherpa received funding of €483,191 from Foundation for Equal Opportunities in Africa, the sum was the entire yearly budget of Sherpa.
As far as Boumataou is concerned, he is under an international arrest warrant issued by the Mauritanian authorities after being indicted for corruption in country in August 2017. In July 2018, a case was also filed against him in France regarding money laundering charges. Even the president of Sherpa has acknowledged this financial relationship between Bourdon’s organization and Boumataou.
The close relationship between Boumataou and his foundation’s large contributions to Sherpa is just tip of the iceberg of the financial improprieties of the organization which claims to fight against economic offences. It has also been accused of meddling in several African countries, including Equatorial Guinea.
Affinity for frivolous lawsuits and unsubstantiated allegations
Critics of Bourdon and Sherpa have pointed out the organisation’s insatiable appetite for publicity with regard to their frequently frivolous lawsuits against companies in cases which could gain them ‘maximum media exposure’. The charges are not without merit. Two of the biggest lawsuits Sherpa has filed were against Samsung and Vinci Construction Company. Sherpa had accused the Vinci Construction of being involved in Human rights abuses in Qatar. The organization had filed a lawsuit against the Construction firm which was dismissed by the French Prosecutor in February 2018 due to lack of evidence. Vinci construction had also filed a defamation case against Sherpa the proceedings of which are still ongoing.
The lawsuit filed against the Samsung met with more or less similar fate. Sherpa had filed the suit in January 2018 against Samsung. In March 2018, Public Prosecutor’s office in Paris decided to close the case after primary investigations, citing lack of proof.
Sherpa’s motives for these lawsuits were perhaps best described by Jean-Pierre Versini-Campinchi, the lawyer for Vinci Construction. “They file a complaint and their objective is met. The bigger the company, the bigger the media interest.”
So, it comes as no surprise that an NGO fuelled by one man’s ego to garner headlines around the world, meddle in domestic politics making strange bedfellows, have decided to throw its hat in an ongoing Rafale deal controversy with which it has nothing to do. It would be surprising if Sherpa is taken seriously by anyone. This is the supposed rogue guardian against which there is a need for guards.