‘Covidgate’ in Cameroon: An arrest warrant for Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Friday, 28 October 2022 11:00

Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh in October 2019. © MABOUP

According to our sources, the prosecutor's office of Cameroon’s Special Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the all-powerful Secretary General of the Presidency (SGPR). Can the Minister of State, who refused to appear before the judges on 18 October, be arrested? 

Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh was summoned “physically” on October 18 by investigators to be interviewed in the context of “Covidgate”, a scandal following several cases of misappropriation of public funds and overcharging, documented by a report of the Chamber of Auditors. When contacted by Jeune Afrique, a source close to the SGPR believes that the procedure is akin to “harassment” aimed at weakening Paul Biya’s main collaborator in order to push the president to “get rid” of him.

According to his entourage, Ngoh Ngoh has refused to be interviewed because there is no serious evidence to justify his being targeted in this procedure and therefore, heard. According to his supporters, the embezzlement and other irregularities (denounced in a report by the Supreme Court’s audit office) predate the presidency’s creation of the famous task force to which the government had delegated the management of the anti-Covid response.

Loss of 14 billion CFA francs

Letter creating the task force in charge of managing the fight against Covid in Cameroon. ©All rights reserved

According to them, everything started with a decree signed on July 22, 2020, which allocated to 24 sectoral administrations a budget of 180 billion CFA francs (FCFA), mainly made up of funding from the state budget (137 billion FCFA) and assistance funds (43 billion FCFA), in the form of various donations from technical and financial partners. The funds thus mobilised were placed in a special allocation account (CAS-Covid) opened at the public treasury, in order to ensure transparent management of the resources allocated for the management of the health crisis.

At the initiative of the presidency, the Chamber of Auditors audited the management of the money and on 10 March 2021 sent a progress report to the finance minister. This document denounced numerous dysfunctions, including the quasi-monopoly granted to the company Mediline Medical Cameroon S.A. belonging to businessman Mohamadou Dabo, which notably delivered screening tests for 24.5 billion FCFA. In detail, this company invoiced the state for 1,400,000 screening tests at 17,500 FCFA each, while the unit cost charged by the manufacturer, SD BIOSENSOR, was 7,084 FCFA, a difference of more than 10,000 FCFA per test, resulting in a loss of more than 14 billion FCFA for the state.

Letter to the Cameroonian minister announcing the opening of a judicial investigation for embezzlement in the management of funds dedicated to the fight against Covid. ©All rights reserved

On 16 March 2021, Minister of Finance Louis-Paul Motaze informed President Paul Biya, who ordered the opening of a judicial inquiry and decided to relinquish the management of the Covid response to the presidency. Arguing that the setting up of the task force on 31 March 2021 was subsequent to the Covidgate scandal that arose from the publication of the report of the Chamber of Auditors on 10 March 2021, Ngoh Ngoh did not appear before the Special Criminal Court.

Up against Laurent Esso

Can Ngoh Ngoh be arrested? Taking into account the Cyrus Ngoo precedent – the director general of the autonomous port of Douala was the subject of an arrest warrant but was never arrested – it is unlikely that a police officer will show up to arrest the Minister of State and Secretary General of the presidency.

According to a lecturer at the University of Yaoundé II, “Technically, since the accused is a senior administrative official, and moreover has the title of Minister of State, only his hierarchical superior, i.e. the president of the republic, can give him instructions to respond to the judge’s summons, by virtue of the separation of powers. The president can also stop the procedure because, in our country, the head of state is also the president of the Superior Council of the Magistracy and, therefore, the chief of the investigating magistrates”. In conclusion, only President Paul Biya can stop the procedure. And put an end to this escalation pitting Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh against Minister of Justice Laurent Esso, his predecessor at the Secretariat General of the Presidency.

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