CASABLANCA, Morocco – A company in Morocco has started producing cigars using the legendary Cuban cigar manufacturer’s iconic name, Habanos SA, and China is one of the product’s top importers.
The 100 percent Moroccan cigars are made with leaves that have been cultivated and treated in the north African country.
But the move has not gone down well and the Cuban corporation has reported the Moroccan company three times for registering its brand under the Cuban name.
The Moroccan tobacco manufacturer emerged in 2011 when the state ceased its monopoly of the sector to pave the way for privatization.
Using seeds from the Dominican Republic and working with experts from the same Caribbean nation, Germany and Honduras the Moroccan company set out to grow and produce its home-grown cigars.
The Cuban company has a long history in litigation in different parts of the world to protect its emblematic brands, which includes Cohibas, Montecristo and Guantanamera, but this scenario is new.
The Moroccan Habanos SA company has adopted the iconic name and to date won all proceedings brought against it in Morocco by the Cuban corporation.
The architect of the idea is Mohamed Zehraui.
He has taken the conflict a step further by reporting the Cuban company for selling its products in Morocco.
The grounds of the report are that the Moroccan Habanos SA company registered its trademark first.
Among the products, Zehraui trades are his star cigar called Premium which sells at 40 euros a piece.
Also on the menu are the Roberto, Corona or Romeo cigars.
Zehraoui has appointed his son Moulay Omar as president of the company, although he continues to lead the controversial commercial venture.
“The Cubans finance the Polisario Front,” Zehraoui decried.
“If one day they break with the Polisario, then I will take my name from my company and call it simply HaHa,” he added, although whether his comments are meant to be a joke or not is unclear.
Cuba has for decades been the main source of support across the Americas to the Saharawi movement that seeks independence from Morocco.
Cuba has also just opened an embassy in Rabat.
Zehraui is launching the first International Cigar Trade Show in the Moroccan capital over the weekend.
The event will serve to promote the tobacco products to an international market in an attempt to compete with the legendary Cuban cigars.
“Cubans sell marketing and history,” the trader told EFE.
“I assure you that my cigars are as good or better than theirs.
“Among other things, because I have greater facilities for the international purchase of fertilizers.
“And also, they put perfumes on their cigars and we don’t,” Zehraui added.
But Zehraui is evasive of several questions EFE tried to pose.
He refuses to reveal how much the company produces, and simply says that “we can produce 200,000 units of cigars a year.”
Nor does he reveal where the company grows its tobacco leaves and loosely mentions “the north of the country.”
The most that Zehraui reveals is that 90 percent of production goes to foreign markets, in the following order: the United States, Arab countries and China.
Zehraui is convinced of his right to use the Habanos SA name which appears on the logo of the cigar boxes.
“The thing about the Cubans is that they are not even a company.
“At most, it’s a cooperative. Because it’s a socialist country, is it not?
“We have forced them to close their Habano House in Casablanca once, and we will do it again,” he warned.
With one of his Premium cigars in his hand, Zehraui appears very self-confident.
He drops, without sharing many clues, that he has also registered the trademark in a US court and is willing to take on a legal battle in that country for the Habanos name.