Antananarivo (AFP) – It’s a tale worthy of a John le Carre novel.
A French security expert who went to Madagascar to advise the island nation’s president but subsequently fell out with his political master was jailed for three years for corruption and abuse of power.
But he managed to escape and make a treacherous 15-hour Indian Ocean crossing aboard a wooden paddle boat to the nearby French territory, Mayotte, before flying back to Paris.
Houcine Arfa, 54, who gave his guards the slip during a hospital visit in the capital Antananarivo on December 28, then accused the island’s justice minister and chief prosecutor of accepting vast bribes to enable his daring escape.
On Sunday, Justice Minister Elise Alexandrine Rasolo furiously denied the allegations.
“The statement made by Mr Arfa, which I categorically deny, is unfounded and clearly a lie,” Rasolo said, adding that he planned to make a legal complaint against the erstwhile presidential adviser.
“How can we believe the word of a fugitive, an escapee who makes accusations against the justice minister?” he added at a televised press conference from which French media, including AFP, were excluded.
The island has been rocked by the scandal which broke just after New Year with a government spokesman describing Arfa as “pathetic” and the capital’s chief prosecutor forced to deny they had taken bribes.
On January 2, state TV appealed for the recapture of Arfa and his partner Marie-Claude.
Arfa, who had worked as a security adviser to President Hery Rajaonarimampianina since 2015, denied the accusations that led to his conviction and jailing in November.
“If I hadn’t escaped I would have died,” said Arfa after arriving in France, adding that he had lost 19 kilogrammes (42 pounds) during his time in detention.
He claimed that while working at the highest level of Madagascar’s establishment, he uncovered crimes committed by the presidential team and that he was jailed as part of a conspiracy to silence him.