Madagascan president’s aide accused of bribery in UK and sacked

By Sachin Ravikumar and Lovasoa Rabary

LONDON/ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) -The Madagascan president’s chief of staff has been arrested in London on suspicion of seeking a bribe from precious stone miner Gemfields and removed from her post, British and Madagascan authorities said on Monday.

Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said Romy Andrianarisoa, 46, and a French associate Philippe Tabuteau, 54, were detained at a meeting in London where they were believed to have sought a bribe to secure licences to operate in Madagascar.

They had wanted around 225,000 pounds ($286,000) in upfront charges as well as a 5% equity stake, the NCA statement said.

A lawyer for Andrianarisoa did not respond to a request for comment, while another who represented Tabuteau in court over the weekend declined to comment.

Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina’s office said in a statement the aide had been sacked with immediate effect.

“The President remains firmly devoted to ethics in the conduct of state affairs and to fight corruption in all its forms,” it said.

“Under the provisions of the bilateral relations between Madagascar and the UK, we are convinced that honest cooperation will help shed light on this matter and bring the truth to light.”

Rajoelina’s office said it was unaware of the reasons for Andrianarisoa’s trip to Britain but that she had taken official leave from Aug. 9-22.

Andy Kelly, head of the NCA’s international corruption unit, said in a statement that he was grateful to Gemfields for raising the matter and cooperating with the investigation.

“Their quick reactions to engage the NCA have been critical to our ability to pursue this case,” he said.

The UK-based miner owns the Faberge jewellery brand, operates ruby and emerald mines in southern Africa and has been exploring setting up operations in countries including Ethiopia and Madagascar. It declined to comment on the case.

Andrianarisoa and Tabuteau appeared in court on Saturday and have been remanded in custody until their next hearing in London on Sept. 8, the NCA said.

($1 = 0.7881 pounds)

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar in London and Lovasoa Rabary in Antananarivo;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)