Côte d’Ivoire: What we know about the recording at the centre of the Soro affair
To partly justify the international arrest warrant issued against Guillaume Soro for “attempting to undermine the authority of the state,” the Ivorian courts released an audio recording in which he can be heard talking about a plan to destabilise the country. But many grey areas surround this piece of evidence.
At the centre of the charges brought by the Ivorian courts against Guillaume Soro: a seven-minute, poor quality recording in which the former president of the National Assembly is heard discussing with another man a plan to destabilise Alassane Ouattara’s regime with the help of his supporters in the armed forces, notably the “comzones” (zone commanders) who led the former rebel group New Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (Forces Nouvelles de Côte d’Ivoire – FNCI) alongside Soro.
He can also be heard saying that he is “positioned everywhere” and has the “remote control” to take action.
The conversation was revealed by State Prosecutor Richard Adou during a press conference at the Court of First Instance of Abidjan on 26 December.
According to Adou, Soro was preparing a two-part plot: first, a communications operation abroad to “throw discredit on the [Ivorian] regime,” followed by “a civil and military insurrection.”
While he stated that the “plan was supposed to be implemented shortly,” the magistrate did not provide any additional details regarding the circumstances under which the recording was made.
When and where did the recording take place? Who recorded the conversation and how did they do it? And what was their goal?
The recording that has shaken up Côte d’Ivoire and led to Soro being targeted by an international arrest warrant for “attempting to undermine the authority of the state.”
The rules of the game have been changed ten months prior to the October 2020 presidential election, in which rival Soro had announced his candidacy.
Who is talking with Guillaume Soro?
In the recording released by the prosecutor, Soro is having a discussion with Francis Perez, President of Grupo Pefaco, which owns hotels and casinos in several West African countries.
According to Soro’s entourage, he was introduced to Perez – well-known to members of certain Corsican networks on the continent – in 2012, while Soro was prime minister, by the then-prime minister of Burkina Faso, Tertius Zongo. “Perez wanted to open casinos in Abidjan. Soro met with him but told him that it was still too soon and that he should wait until the country gets back on its feet after the 2010-2011 electoral crisis,” said a person close to Soro.
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The entourage of the former president of the National Assembly also revealed that after this meeting, Perez disappeared from Soro’s radar before re-contacting him in 2017 to set up a new meeting, this time in Paris.
In an interview from French weekly Le Journal du dimanche dated 29 December, Soro recounted his Parisian meeting with Perez: “In 2017, Ouattara attempted to spy on me through the intervention of a scandalous businessman. At that time, I met this man in Paris who claimed that Ouattara wanted to kill me. He offered to help me protect myself and fight back. I thought the situation was suspicious. After investigating, it turned out that he was sent by Ouattara himself! The recording that Ouattara says he has dates back to that time period. It’s a manipulation, a case of ‘lawfare,’ just like Lula went through in Brazil. He is simply instrumentalising the courts to eliminate a serious presidential election candidate.”
When and where did the discussion take place?
The recording is from 2017, after the second mutiny in May. At that time, former New Forces of Côte d’Ivoire rebel soldiers demanded that Ouattara’s regime pay them several million CFA francs.
In Bouaké, the epicentre of their protests, the mutineers retrieved weapons from one of the homes of Kamarate Souleymane Koné, known as “Soul to Soul,” Soro’s protocol chief. Koné’s boss is quickly suspected of being behind the mutiny. The concerned party has always denied it but President Ouattara has since felt betrayed.
According to our sources, Soro and Perez’s conversation took place a few weeks after these turbulent events, sometime between May and July, at Soro’s home in Marcory, a residential neighbourhood in Abidjan. The recording has become a new source of tension between Soro and Ouattara, who has never come to terms with the words uttered by his mentee. Soro left Abidjan for several months after Ouattara discovered the conversation, but eventually came back to apologise to the president.
It cannot be heard in the recording, but another man was present during Soro and Perez’s conversation: Olivier Bazol, a close ally of Robert Montoya, a former French gendarme who became an arms dealer in Africa and was notably responsible for selling Belarusian aircraft to the Ivorian army that were used to attack the French camp in Bouaké in 2004.
Who recorded the conversation?
According to State Prosecutor Richard Adou, the Ivorian intelligence agency was behind the recording.
According to our sources, the conversation was recorded by Bazol and Soro himself.
Are there other recordings?
In a statement made on 26 December on the Facebook page of Soro’s lawyer, Affoussiata Bamba-Lamine, she confirmed the authenticity of the recording released by State Prosecutor Richard Adou, but added that it was “incomplete.” According to Lamine, “in the original version, the spy (Bazol) said that the national police force was with him through the intermediary of Montoya.”
Lamine also claimed that the full version lasts over an hour. Foreign intelligence agencies supposedly have a copy of it, as well as a number of former warlords who have since joined the army and are believed to have remained loyal to Soro.
Regarding the content, Lamine asserted that “all the secrets of this poorly staged spy story dreamed up by the government in Abidjan” will be “exposed in small doses” over the coming weeks.
Tensions remain high in this affair, just a few months away from a critical presidential election.
This article first appeared in Jeune Afrique.