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Why an Air Côte d’Ivoire plane was seized by businessman Diawara

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Wednesday, 24 November 2021 18:23

An Air Côte d'Ivoire plane on the tarmac of Abidjan's Felix Houphouët-Boigny airport in July 2017. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP

Following a decision by the Ecowas Court of Justice, an aircraft operated by Air Côte d'Ivoire was only allowed to take off once a compromise had been reached.

According to our information, the Congolese-Malian businessman Oumar Diawara seized an Airbus A319 registered TU-TSZ, which was operated by the national airline Air Côte d’Ivoire, in Mali on 22 November.

The aircraft was only allowed to take off again after 90 minutes, once the parties had reached an agreement. The negotiations involved the Malian authorities, who are currently under heavy pressure from Ecowas heads of state, as new sanctions may be imposed against them at the next summit, which is scheduled for 12 December in Abuja.

The seizure followed a 22 October decision by the Ecowas Court of Justice to reallocate about 50 hectares of land, which the Abidjan Court of First Instance had confiscated from Diawara back in 2020, and to pay him 1.3bn CFA francs ($2.2m) in damages.

Located in the communes of Angré, Assinie, Bingerville and Abatta, the land is valued at 15bn CFA francs. One of the plots of land will accommodate a section of the future Y4 motorway, which will bypass the economic capital.

Still waiting for the judgement to be enforced, the investor, who is also active in Central Africa’s oil and gas sectors, and transports refined products and foodstuffs in the West African hinterland, had decided to seize the Ivorian state’s assets.

Judicial marathon

On 19 November in Mali, Diawara got the Supreme Court to rule that the judgement be enforced. Armed with the Ecowas ruling, which we were able to access, the police accompanied a bailiff to the airport on 22 November. Civil Aviation and the Agence pour la Sécurité de la Navigation Aérienne en Afrique et à Madagascar (Asecna) stated that the HF 710 from Abidjan had been grounded and did not give it permission to take off again.

For the past four years, the businessman has been embroiled in a complex legal battle in Côte d’Ivoire, during which his numerous requests for an amicable settlement have not resulted in anything. Believing that he was denied a fair trial in Abidjan, he brought his case before the Community Court in April 2021. In their ruling, the Ecowas judges recognised that the Ivorian judge Blanche Abanet Essoh’s actions had “clearly been motivated by partiality, prejudice and bad faith.”

The case began on 18 July 2017. The investor acquired – through the Société Ivoirienne des Dépôts Douaniers (SIDD), of which he is the sole shareholder – the real estate company Perl Invest. The company was put up for sale by BNI Gestion, a subsidiary of the Banque Nationale d’Investissement (BNI), at the request of CREPMF, the UEMOA’s financial market regulator, for regulatory reasons.

At the end of 2017, Diawara noticed that Perl Invest’s assets – initially estimated at 100 hectares – had been overvalued. He then uncovered a system of misuse of corporate assets and embezzlement that was allegedly orchestrated by Fatoumata Sakandé Cissé, BNI Gestion’s former manager, whom BNI had just dismissed for gross misconduct. Still presumed innocent, she was nevertheless referred to the criminal court in June.

The businessman filed a complaint against her. However, he was also accused of fraud by Souleymane Cissé, chairman of the BNI’s board of directors, who suspected him of being involved in the embezzlement. At the end of 2018, he was charged with money laundering and complicity for misusing corporate assets, without even being heard. Perl Invest’s assets were also frozen.

U-turn

In May 2019, Diawara appealed to Abidjan’s Court of Appeal. Informed of the dispute, Adama Koné, then minister of the economy, attempted to mediate between BNI Gestion and Perl Invest’s CEO. However, in September, the night before the memorandum of understanding was due to be signed – even though the parties seemed to have found common ground – he was demoted to the position of the president of the Republic’s minister, responsible for economic and financial affairs. His successor, Adama Coulibaly, who is none other than his former cabinet director, did an about-face.

Noting the Court of Appeal’s inaction, Diawara and his counsel appealed to the Court of Cassation in 2020, but Essoh, the magistrate in charge of the investigation, refused to transfer the case to the prosecutor.

Defying the procedures, she continued her work until September 2020. Diawara’s lawyer then discovered a dossier that was devoid of any hearings. Neither the witnesses, nor the civil parties, Cissé – the alleged perpetrator of the offences – nor her client were questioned. It also noted that the Perl Invest land case had been in the courts’ hands since the 17 April 2020 ruling.

Judge relinquishes jurisdiction

In October, the Court of Cassation’s judges finally decided to relinquish jurisdiction. In a letter dated 24 December 2020 and addressed to Moussa Sefon, the president of the Republic’s legal adviser, Diawara listed his legal troubles and complained about the pressure that Sansan Kambilé, minister of justice since 2016, exerted on the Court of Cassation to cancel the decision to relinquish jurisdiction.

In February 2021, the defendant’s fears proved to be well-founded. The Court of Cassation rendered a decision that finally allowed the deprived magistrate to continue her work, which allowed BNI Gestion to recover the land. The decision led to Diawara turning to the Ecowas Court of Justice.

Despite the Community Court’s verdict, Diawara will be tried on 25 November at the Abidjan Economic and Financial Criminal Court. The accused, who does not recognise the legality of this procedure, will not be present at his trial. His lawyers will argue that the judge lacks jurisdiction.

The businessman, who is still waiting for the Community Court to enforce its ruling, plans to pursue this matter further with Ecowas and UEMOA, as well as in France, if he does not win his case. Diawara is not new to this. In 2004, while in conflict with Brazzaville’s Crédit pour l’Agriculture, l’Industrie et le Commerce, he seized Congolese assets in France, and then obtained an agreement granting him $13m.

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