Fifteen people went on trial in the Moroccan capital on Friday over the theft of dozens of luxury watches belonging to King Mohammed VI.
Defence lawyers said the suspects, arrested at the end of last year, were also charged in a Rabat court of forming “a criminal gang”.
The main suspect is a 46-year-old who worked as a cleaning woman in a royal household and has allegedly confessed to the robberies, while the others have denied involvement.
The woman, who is alleged to have stolen 36 watches, had many of them melted down and sold on to gold merchants.
The 14 others in court, all men, are gold traders or intermediaries who said they had no knowledge of the robberies.
Forbes magazine in 2014 classified the 56-year-old monarch as one of the world’s richest men with wealth estimated at more than $2.5 billion.
He has a taste for luxury cars, paintings and watches, and was shown in an Instagram post in September 2018 with a Patek Philippe diamond-encrusted watch in white gold with an estimated value of $1.2 million.
“His Majesty King Mohammed VI congratulated His Excellency President Buhari for his leadership in the regional initiative against terrorism in the Lake Chad region and commended his efforts in the fight against corruption and his role as the African Union anti-corruption champion,” the communique read in part.
President Buhari in return congratulated King Mohammed on Morocco’s election to the Peace and Security Council of the African Union.
He also congratulated King Mohammed on the successful completion of his mandate as African Leader on Migration Issues, which culminated in the presentation of the African Agenda for Migration and the creation of the African Observatory on Migration.
Both leaders, however, express concerns over terrorism and security threats in Africa, which they resolved to jointly tackle.
“They expressed deep concerns about violent extremism, terrorism and the persistence of security threats in Africa. They affirmed their resolve to strengthen cooperation in efforts to combat radicalisation in Africa and beyond,” the communique read further.
President Buhari’s visit to Morocco, the communique revealed, reinforces the positive bilateral relationship between Morocco and Nigeria.
Bother leaders affirmed their will to create a model of South-South cooperation.
They welcomed the progress made in various areas of their cooperation and relationship such as agriculture, fertilizer production, energy infrastructure and mining.
“King Mohammed VI and His Excellency President Buhari noted with satisfaction the milestones achieved and underscored their commitment to the Regional Gas Pipeline, which will connect Nigeria’s gas resources, those of some West African countries and Morocco, thereby fostering integration and development of countries in the West African region.
“The two Heads of State also noted progress made in other areas of the bilateral cooperation, as evidenced by the Agreement between OCP of Morocco and the Fertiliser Producers and Suppliers Association of Nigeria to invest in Fertiliser Production; and the Memorandum of Understanding between OCP and the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority on the establishment of a Basic Chemicals Platform, specifically to develop a significant Ammonia Production Plant.”
They jointly agreed to develop a partnership in the field of agriculture, particularly through the signing of Cooperation Agreement on vocational training and technical supervision.
The leaders also confirmed their willingness to consult and coordinate the positions of the two countries in regional and international organisations, including the African Union.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has ruled out any peace deal that allows for the independence of the Western Sahara as the United Nations renews efforts to resolve the decades-old dispute.
A UN peacekeeping force has been deployed in the former Spanish colony since 1991 with a mandate to organise a referendum on its independence or integration with Morocco.
Morocco agreed to the vote in a 1988 agreement with the pro-independence Polisario Front that ended 13 years of conflict but has since blocked it being held, saying it will accept only autonomy for the territory.
“No settlement of the Sahara affair is possible outside the framework of the full sovereignty of Morocco over its Sahara and the autonomy initiative, whose seriousness and credibility the international community has recognised,” the king said in a televised address on Monday.
His speech marked 42 years since hundreds of thousands of Moroccan civilians marched across the border to lay claim to the mineral-rich territory.
The “Green March” triggered war with the Algerian-backed Polisario Front which had been campaigning for independence for the territory since 1973.
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in April that called for a new push for talks between Morocco and the Polisario.
The new UN envoy, former German president Horst Kohler, held talks with both sides last month.
The king said Morocco was committed to contributing to the “new momentum” desired by the United Nations and to cooperating with the new envoy.
But he said it would categorically reject “any overreach, any attempt to undermine the legitimate rights of Morocco”.
The king said Morocco would press ahead with its own plans for the development of the Western Sahara, regardless of the progress of the new peace push.
“We are not going to sit idly by waiting for the solution to be found,” he said.
“We will continue to stimulate the development of our southern provinces and provide their people with the conditions for a free and dignified life.”
Tens of thousands of Sahrawi refugees have lived for decades in desert camps run by the Polisario in neighbouring Algeria.
Spread over 266,000 square kilometres (103,000 square miles) where the desert meets the Atlantic Ocean, the Western Sahara is the last territory on the African continent whose post-colonial status has yet to resolved.
Morocco controls all of the territory’s main towns. The Polisario controls parts of the desert interior.
The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic declared by the Polisario is a member of the African Union and recognised by many African governments.
Morocco’s claim to the territory is supported by the Arab League.
The conflict has poisoned relations between Morocco and Algeria for decades. The land border between the North African neighbours has been closed since 1994.
The African Union has re-admitted the Kingdom of Morocco into the continental body, more than 30 years since it pulled out.
The North African kingdom quit the AU’s predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), in 1984 amid a dispute over the body’s recognition of Western Sahara, most of which has been controlled by Morocco since 1976.
In 2014, Morocco rejected the AU’s decision to appoint a special envoy for the Western Sahara, saying the body had no legal authority to intervene.
However, King Mohammed VI has been making diplomatic efforts over the last year to try to win Rabat’s readmission.
Meanwhile, the Moroccan leader addressed the continental body on Tuesday for the first time since his country was re-admitted.
King Mohammed VI said the kingdom’s readmission is not intended to divide it, but to benefit Africa.
“Africa is my home and I am coming back home,” King Mohammed said, to applause from other heads of state. “I have missed you all.”
It is expected that the readmission to the AU would ease Morocco’s entry into fast-growing African economies to the south and help reduce its reliance on stagnant European markets to the north.
In the last few years, Moroccan firms have made significant investments across Africa in areas from financial services to housing projects to fertilizer plants.
King Mohammed promised more of this would follow the readmission. “Africa is indispensable to Morocco and Morocco is indispensable to Africa,” he said.
Several countries, led by South Africa, Algeria and Zimbabwe, had been concerned about the re-admittance, but lost the debate at the summit in Addis Ababa.
Thousands of Moroccans have held protests in several towns and cities after a fish seller was crushed to death in a refuse lorry trying to retrieve fish confiscated by police.
The death of Mouhcine Fikri in the northern town of al-Hoceima on Friday drew widespread anger on social media over what is seen as police violence.
His death drew parallels to that of a Tunisian fruit seller in 2010 which helped spark the Arab spring uprisings.
The interior ministry said in a statement Sunday that Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has asked interior minister, Mohammed Hassad to visit Fikri’s family and to ensure a “meticulous” investigation.
The interior and justice ministries have also pledged to hold an investigation.
Footage circulating online appears to show Fikri jumping into a garbage truck to retrieve his fish, before being crushed to death by the truck’s compactor.
The general directorate for national security released a statement on Sunday denying its local officers were involved in Fikri’s death. Authorities have not commented on the circumstances of his death.
The Moroccan Human Rights Association condemned the “heinous” incident and recalled another incident in Hoceima, in which five youths died during 2011 protests of the February 20th Movement.