By Hilda Hasinjo sy Lomelle Yanne
Since June 2018, this name has made the headlines. It is on everyone’s minds. But who is this untraceable and untouchable mystery woman? We dared to look for her, and we found her shadow.
22nd February 2019. An article in the Express de Madagascar by historian Nasolo Valiavo Andriamihaja, published under his pen name Vanf, brought attention to the issue. Under the title “Not for sale”, this article responded to rumours that had been circulating for a few days (link to the article) about the existence of a definitive contract of sale threatening Antaninarenina's garden. A sale that was made nineteen years ago but resurfaced at the beginning of this year and resulted in the occupants of the area being recently issued an eviction notice.
The news spread and the social networks flame up. The resentment became more and more bitter. Vanf called the Tananariviens to “come and occupy the garden to peacefully demonstrate that this historic garden is not going to be lost”. On Saturday 23rd February, roughly thirty people responded to this call. Several people brandished printed material indicating their discontentment. The Minister of Land Use Planning, Mr Hajo Andrianainarivelo, appeared at this demonstration. He also positioned himself against this sale of inalienable public property, which some describe as illegal.
The case then became political. “We need to bring this to the light. Those responsible for this intrigue need to pay for their actions” declared the line Minister, noting that impunity will no longer be tolerated. Continuing, he stated that “we know more or less who is responsible for this ‘fraud’. We have files and we will not stop until this affair is brought to justice”.
Those files are beginning to come to light, particularly administrative documents now available on the Internet, which show that the sale was concluded in 1998 between the then-President of the Board of directors of the Urban Commune of Antananarivo and a third party. The agreement involved the payment of a sum of 30,000,000 Malagasy Francs (6,000,000 Ariary) in exchange for a 30-acre plot of land.
While trying to locate the people who signed these deeds of sale, one name came to our attention: Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine. This is not the first time this name has appeared in files like this. In June 2018, a similar case was exposed. The Analamahitsy General Education College was dispossessed of its real estate. Mrs Razaiarimanga bought the 4,217 m2 plot of land for 42,170,000 Malagasy Francs, or 8,434,000 Ariary.
The common thread between these two cases: both plots were purchased in 1998, nineteen years ago, but their regularisation was only made in 2018.
Key: Extract from the final deed of sale of the Antaninarenina land plot.
On the hunt for Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine
The question is: who is this woman who is wealthy enough to purchase all these properties from the Urban Commune of Antananarivo?
There are many paths that lead to her. The first is an address: IVC 9 Ambatomitsangana, which can be read on the deed of sale of the Antaninarenina garden.
An investigation into said fokontany allowed us to discover that the lady "Razaiarimanga" no longer occupies the premises. Or, more precisely, she has never lived in that house. At least, that is what the people of the fokontany told us. “Emissaries from the Ministry of Land Use Planning were here before you. We have looked through the files and this name does not appear in any of our records”, they told us.
The first trail ran cold and brought us nowhere. Neither the neighbourhood nor the people of the fokontany can help us any further. At the Ministry of Land Use Planning, some begin to think that she is a character created to facilitate the illegal sale of public property. But a second clue must be explored: the location where her identification card was delivered.
To shed light about the existence of Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine, we visited Fieferana Avaradreano, where her ID card was supposedly delivered on 7th September 1972.
Fieferana is a rural commune deep in Sabotsy-Namehana. The purpose of our mission was to get in contact with people who may have been close to her family.
However, upon mentioning the name Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine we were met with resistance from those we asked, as she is now on the run from the law. “Not too long ago, some men came asking about her. I was told they were from the gendarmerie. But it seems to me that no one here knows about someone named Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine. Though everyone here knows each other. It is a small village.” This information was given to us by a woman whose name has been withheld for her safety.
At that point, we decided to try and go undercover in order to find more information as we were convinced that the key to the mystery lied here, in this village.
Going to Fiaferana allowed us to know that the ID card was issued in the Ambohitrinandriana commune, a small village that can be found just a few kilometres away from Fiaferana. But we needed to return the next day so that our guides could learn about the identity of the person we were looking for.
Key: The office of the Rural Municipality of Ambohitrinandriana
After two hours on side roads, we arrived at our destination. But we were faced with another problem: the cabinet holding the records of ID cards was right in front of us, but it was sealed with a lock to which no one had the key. We were therefore unable to confirm whether Mrs Razaiarimanga obtained her ID card here. In addition, her name didn’t sound familiar to any of the people we talked to in that area. “Do you perhaps have the name of her father or mother?” they would ask. This might be what saved the day, since her family name is known in the region. The people knew her late parents and were familiar with her sister and her brother-in-law. “Ramilison had two girls. We never knew what happened to her older sister, to the point that we almost forgot that she existed”, stated a man of about 75 years. He told us which village to go to in order to find the sister of Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine. He added that we should “ask the village chief to show us around”.
The mystery has not been solved yet. There is still doubt. Does this woman really exist? Is she made up, as state officials seem to believe? A week earlier, a source with access to the file at the Ministry of Land Use Planning told us that “no one has done anything about this case yet. The order that we received was to make it look like we were doing all we could to solve the case, but in reality we aren’t doing anything about it”. It has been a month since the Antaninarenina garden scandal erupted.
Our morale going down, we were about to go to the village that we were told about when one of the officials from the ID cards issuing office stumbled upon an old booklet. It contained a register of all the records made here. He asked us again for the full name of the person we were looking for. He flipped through the pages and found the name in the registry.
Marie Meltine was born 3 September 1953, in Antaninandro Fiaferana, under act number 134. She is 1.48 meters tall. For the time being, this would be the only information available. She really does exist. With proof of her existence in hand, the next step was to find her trail. Our contacts in Ambohitrinandriana were willing to take us to the fokontany of Soanarivo where her sister lives. We arrived there after hours of back roads and a few kilometres on foot. Perched at the top of a mountain in Antaninandro, mildly isolated from the village, the family home of Ralimison, father of Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine, stood before us. A traditional home whose occupants were cohabiting with farm animals.
Putting a face to the name
With a child in her arms, the sister of Marie Meltine welcomed us with an uncomfortable smile. She started to relax when we introduced our undercover identities. At our request, and to put a face to the name, she took out the rare photos that she had of her sister. “This is the most recent one I have. It’s about 5 years old. She was here”.
Key: The rare photos of Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine found at her sister’s house.
She told us that her sister, Marie Meltine, left Madagascar about thirty years ago but often returns. “She calls every now and then, but it is relatively difficult to contact her. It’s always her that calls us because the cost of the calls is so high. Actually, she called us yesterday. She said that she was going to come visit either in May or September”, she told us. We asked her for the number that Marie Meltine use to contact her family.
To our great surprise, the number that she gave us is a local one. But she assured us that the number is in fact the one that Marie Meltine calls from. Another mystery. Her sister also told us that Marie Meltine now lives in France. She married a man with dual-citizenship from France and Madagascar who is an ex-police officer, a former French public servant. According to her, Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine was a nurse in a retirement home. Now, both are retired.
She told us that “Mrs Razaiarimanga” has houses in Ambohibao, Ivato, Manjakandriana, and Iarivonimamo. “She comes here at least once a year to monitor the repair works. But the houses are now cared for by housekeepers”. We were told the location of two of these properties. Those leads did not get us anywhere and neither did the phone number that we were given.
A case going nowhere
Marie Meltine seems to have been planning this move for a long time because her extreme discretion, even with her closest family, made her nearly impossible to locate. No pictures, no contact unless she wants to, and no information about her private life: Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine is like a ghost.
We returned to Tana and once again, for the umpteenth time, began searching through the documents that we had in our possession. We were still hoping to unveil the identity of the all-powerful Marie Meltine. We met with Mr. Fredon Ratovondrajao, who represents the line Ministry in this case, to find out what the Ministry knows, two months after the investigation began. “Eleven people were arrested, prosecuted, and sent to prison. These are all persons whose names appear on the sale records of the public lands in question”.
One of them is thought to have been in contact with Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine. Randianosolo Nomenjanahary Solofo was given power of attorney to represent the person of interest to us in relation to the Antaninarenina garden scandal. “During the substantive investigation, he also said he no longer knew where Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine was. He said that they worked together a long time ago. That’s how he knew her”, stated Att. Fredon. He too seemed despondent due to the complexity of the case.
We went to Antanimora prison where many of these defendants are in pre-trial detention. We were able to get a meeting with one of them. But he was not able to tell us about the identity of the woman in question.
Having been informed by the family of Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine that she would be returning to Madagascar soon, either in May or September, we went and spoke with the border police to know if there was a warrant out for her arrest. Nothing. At least for the moment. At the police station, we were told that the searches have been unsuccessful. But there are some who continue to believe that Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine is a myth. Hence the absence of any warrant, not even a search warrant, against her.
Several hypotheses emerge. This woman could be the nominee of wealthier personalities who want to acquire land whose value is greater than the price at which it is sold. She could be the only one capable of naming all those involved in the fraudulent sales of public lands. To break the network, she must be located. She could also be the victim of the network in question. But to bring this to light, she must be found. Are authorities, however, really doing enough? Who are those who protect her? The case stinks of high-flying corruption, but so far, we’ve come the farthest with these photos and information.
“In any case, if she is arrested, her punishment will probably be harsh. She is essentially accused of being part of a group of criminals, as well as for making and using forgeries. The fact that she’s on the run does not make things any better”, concluded Att. Fredon Ratovondrajao. A story to follow...
CALLING WITNESSES: If you have any information concerning Razaiarimanga Marie Meltine please contact us at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
This English translation has been possible thanks to the PerMondo project: Free translation of website and documents for non-profit organisations. A project managed by Mondo Agit.