Yassine Ayari, victim of intimidation attempts or fake news instigator?

Yassine Ayari

The Tunisian MP Yassine Ayari, who was elected in the constituency of Tunisian residing in northern France, has claimed that he is the target of a complaint for public defamation in France, filed by Panoro Energy Asa, a Norwegian oil and gas exploration and production company.

Mr. Ayari had previously accused the firm of money laundering based on a fake document published on his Facebook account in March 2019. Mr. Ayari claims to be the target of “an intimidation attempt”, but at the same time refuses to explain himself on why he publicly conveyed these false and groundless accusations on Panoro Energy.

The Tunisian MP complained of being prevented in his work of parliamentary control and denounced collusion between the oil companies and the French political class, that according to him, is anxious to preserve its interests in Tunisia. These unfounded and baseless l accusations have been dismissed by Panoro Energy and its chairman, Julien Balkany. The French entrepreneur vigorously rejected any political background of the matter and stated that it must remain a “pure legal matter” .

While underlining the gravity of the “defamatory and slanderous remarks” made against him, Julien Balkany also said that he is calling on “the French Justice to work in close collaboration with the Tunisian Justice in order to continue its investigations in a peaceful content “. According to a source close to Panoro Energy, the Norwegian company is very respectful of the role of the Tunisian Parliament to propose and pass laws and also to control the actions of the Government.

While it seems essential that Tunisian MPs are able to carry out their work of controlling and auditing public authorities, it is also essential that the latter submit to the requirements of exemplarity and cannot, like Yassine Ayari, publicly relay defamatory and slanderous remarks with impunity and without being held accountable. If Yassine Ayari disputes the legitimacy of his questioning in the name of his role of monitoring the activity of the Tunisian government as a member of Parliament, he however declined to answer on the merits of the case, which now has seen its indictment by a French prosecutor .

These prosecutions relate in this matter to the use and dissimination by Ayari of a false document, the fallacious nature which had already been demonstrated. Why does he not apologies for having spread, without proof and wrongly, in the medias and groundless and defamatory allegations? His role as a MP does not place him above the law but on the contrary gives him an imperative requirement to be a role model and abide by the laws.

The doubts concerning Yassine Ayari against Panoro Energy is in fact the umpteenth rebound in a case that dates back to the summer of 2018, when Panoro Energy acquired two oil companies based in Tunisia, DNO Tunisia AS and OMV Tunisia Upstream GmbH. This latest deal, concluded between the Norwegian company and Austrian major OMV for tens of millions of dollars, promised substantial economic benefits at the local level.

Yet there was a true attempt of destabilization and it was apparently orchestrated at upper echelons of the Tunisian State , and was worthy of a spy novel that Panoro Energy had to face. A few weeks after the announcement of these acquisitions, the Tunisian ambassador to France, Abdelaziz Rassaa, sent the foreign ministry the letter from an NGO based in Paris, Veronga Watch, claiming to detail Panoro’s Energy’s implication in a “major money laundering operation”.

After verification, Veronga did not exist in the national directory of French associations, and the address it claims to be domiciled at , number 18 on Boulevard de la Madeleine in Paris, neither exist. The NGO is also nonexistent online, has never published a single report on any matter and has no employee nor contributor.

The bailiffs appointed by Panoro Energy quickly noticed the totally fictitious nature of this NGO. As of now, indirectly targeted by another complaint against X filed in France for forgery, use of forgery and slanderous denunciation, Abdelaziz Rassaa, for his part, was dismissed from his ambassadorial position the following year by the current President of the Republic of Tunisia in the context of another corruption case brought against him and tarnishing the reputation of the Tunisian embassy and it’s former representative in France.

It is this same letter from Veronga Watch, which fictitious nature had yet been unambiguously established, that Yassine Ayari nevertheless published in March 2019 on his Facebook page. And it is only because of his post on social media, to which the Tunisian MP has never replied to, that Panoro Energy decided to take legal action in France for defamation, forgery and use of forgery.

In a message posted on his Facebook dated August 9, he presents the French legal proceedings as a “punishment”, arguing an alleged “inexperience” of Panoro Energy in terms ofpprodpproduction t to assert the “suspicious and unjustified ” nature of the transaction. Founded in 2009 and listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange in Norway, Panoro Energy has been active for a decade on the African continent, in Nigeria and Gabon, countries in which it holds several oil and gas permits.

The company was also operating in Brazil where it had several fields in partnership with s Petrofac and sold its Brazilian subsidiary for US$ 140 million in 2013. If the MP defends himself on his social media against any conspiracy or fabrications, he nevertheless denounces a “political” affair, involving political figures abroad. In doing so, the MP is trying to shift the debate and ignite a counterfire in order to avoid explaining the reasons that prompted him to relay this false document in the first place, without having done any basic checking.

This does not explain the reasons which encouraged him to maintain his baseless accusations either, while at the same time ceasing to mention Veronga Watch, the alleged NGO at the root of this accusation, whose MP now appears to recognize the fictious existence . For the record, this is not the first time that Yassin Ayari has been prosecuted for defamatory comments. He had already been convicted in 2016 by his country’s justice system for having wrongly accused Tunisian human rights activist Hamma Hammami of corruption.

Yassine Ayari had also previously admitted to spreading false information during the Tunisian revolution of 2011, in order to invigorate demonstrators against the Ben Ali regime to take to the streets. Finally, no later than on August 19, 2020 the Tunisian political party Attayar filed a lawsuit in Tunisia against Yassine Ayari in the so-called plastic bags case.