On March 22, as I was about to wrap up a meeting with a client, I got a phone call. At first I ignored the vibrating phone, but the same number kept calling. “Aren’t you going to take that?” my client asked politely. As I reached out to take the call, the phone stopped buzzing. Then it vibrated with a short message: “Your brother was arrested.” My heart sank. I stumbled out of my meeting trying to find out what I could do to help my brother.
I believed I knew why he had been arrested. My brother Abderrahmane Weddady, 48, is a whistle-blower. Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz—or Aziz, as he is known locally—opted to silence him. The president was betting on global media and institutions to do what they have done throughout his 14-year reign: ignore Mauritania. He had gotten used to this lack of accountability. And he was facing the greatest financial scandal in the West African nation’s history.
My brother believed that he had uncovered a dangerous Ponzi scheme. Sheikh Ali Rada Al Saidy presented himself as a man with a blessing, a pious cleric of many miracles. He offered Mauritanians a tempting deal. He bought their homes at prices way above market value, my brother alleged, offering partial payment in cash and the rest as an IOU to be paid over the next one to three years. His army of representatives then moved immediately to flip the properties at deeply discounted prices—at times, as little as 50 percent of the real value—using the proceeds to pay off earlier creditors, according to my brother’s investigation.