RABAT (Reuters) - A former Moroccan regional lawmaker, who the government says may have been funding civil unrest, has been arrested in the Netherlands where he lives, the Moroccan and Dutch governments said on Thursday.
Morocco had recalled its ambassador in the Hague at the weekend over what it described as the Netherlands’ failure to “take measures against” Said Chaaou, 50, who it suggested was involved in providing “financial and logistical support” in Morocco’s Rif region, the centre of months of protests.
Chaaou has also been the subject of two arrest warrants accusing him of criminal association and international drug trafficking, issued by a Moroccan court in 2010 and 2015.
The Dutch Justice Department confirmed his arrest, after it was first reported by Morocco’s MAP state news agency on Thursday, and said it was made under an international arrest warrant related to a 2015 request from Morocco.
It said the arrest had not been carried out before because Morocco had not given the required guarantees to Chaaou as a Dutch citizen.
As a Dutch national he needed a guarantee he can serve out any sentence in the Netherlands.
The Moroccan foreign ministry said that it would now seek Chaaou’s extradition from the Netherlands.
“Today’s arrest of Said Chaaou, by Dutch authorities, constitutes an important development in the treatment of this affair tied with organised crime and which has lasted years,” it said.
The Dutch justice department said a court would review the extradition request, a process that can take up to 18 months.
In Morocco’s Rif region, a movement called Hirak al Chaabi in Arabic has led demonstrations, accusing officials of corruption and abuses after the death last October of a fishmonger who was crushed in a garbage truck trying to recover fish confiscated by the police.
A lawyer defending several leaders of the Hirak currently held in prison previously told Reuters that Chaaou has no ties with the movement, describing reports of Chaaou’s funding of Hirak as “rumours.”
Reporting by Samia Errazzouki in Rabat and Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Susan Fenton