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Guillaume Soro: 20 year sentence is ‘attempt at political execution’

By Vincent Duhem, in Abidjan
Posted on Thursday, 30 April 2020 10:24

Former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro after a meeting with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara at the presidential palace in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, in March 2012./SIPA

Sentenced to 20 years in prison and deprived of his civil rights for "embezzlement of public funds" and "money laundering", Guillaume Soro's chances of running for the presidency are diminishing. "An attempt at political execution", according to his lawyers.

The judgment fell just after the lunch break.

After a trial that lasted just over three hours, Soro was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined 4.5 billion CFA francs (just under 7 million euros) for “embezzlement of public funds” and “money laundering”.

He was also deprived of his civil rights for five years and ordered to pay 2 billion CFA francs in damages to the Ivorian public treasury. Finally, a new arrest warrant has been issued against him.

Guillaume Soro, in exile in France, was not present at his trial, nor were his lawyers.

The Abidjan criminal court found him guilty of having bought his home in Marcory Résidentiel, a neighbourhood of Abidjan, in December 2007 for CFAF 1.5 billion with funds from the public treasury.

By this sentence, the president of the court followed to the letter the indictment pronounced by the public prosecutor more than an hour earlier.

Richard Adou considered that proof of “massive and fraudulent use of public money” had been provided. Although the facts date back to 2007, the prosecutor considered that the statute of limitations did not apply because the offence was still ongoing.

Guillaume Soro, in exile in France, was not present at his trial, nor were his lawyers.

READ MORE: Côte d’Ivoire: Guillaume Soro launches legal counterattack in Paris

Prior to his trial, lawyers for the Ivorian state, which had filed a civil suit, had accused the accused of having “knowingly embezzled public funds by using his capacity as Prime Minister”.

“Guillaume Soro is dangerous for Côte d’Ivoire, for Ivorians,” said Abdoulaye Mëité. “Your decision must be a thunderbolt in the sky of corruption,” continued his colleague Mamadou Samassi.

Two testimonies for the prosecution

During the three-hour hearing, the prosecution relied mainly on two witnesses: Kadiatou Ly, a judicial officer of the Treasury, and René Nguessan, the notary chosen by Guillaume Soro to purchase his home.

Kadiatou Ly, a civil servant at the Ministry of Justice, was not present at the trial, but was represented by his lawyer.

Before the judges, the latter summarized the statements made by his client during the investigation. The latter had stated that she had, during a “routine check”, discovered that the residence purchased by Guillaume Soro with funds received from the Treasury, when he was Prime Minister, had still not been registered as a state property.

According to the public prosecutor, it was she who then reported the matter to her services.

The only witness present at the bar having taken part in the purchase of the famous villa, the notary René Nguessan told him that he was invited in June 2007 by Marcel Amon Tanoh, then Minister of Construction, Urbanism and Housing, to a meeting with Guillaume Soro.

READ MORE: Guillaume Soro approached by emissaries from Abidjan

That day, at the Hotel du Golf in Abidjan, the two “statesmen” spoke to him about the proposed acquisition of the residence, which then belonged to Adrien Houngbédji, the former president of the National Assembly of Benin.

Eleven cheques

To do this, he says, a civil real estate company, SCI Ebur, was created on the initiative of Amon Tanoh.

It had a capital of 2 million CFA francs and had two partners: Cissé Mori, the manager, and Souleymane Kamaraté Koné – known as “Soul to Soul”, the former director of protocol of Soro. The two men are also being prosecuted by the Ivorian courts in another case. Soul to Soul was incarcerated on 23 December. As for Cissé Mori, he is in exile in France.

It is through this special vehicule that a total of 11 cheques issued by the Treasury, for a total amount of 1.932 billion CFA francs, will be paid, allowing the purchase of the house and the payment of expenses, including commissions, explained the notary.

Ironically, the hearing revealed that the property had not been transferred to the name of Guillaume Soro but that the title deed still bore the name of Adrien Houngbédji. After the sale before a notary in December 2007, the transfer was never carried out. According to the notary, Guillaume Soro finally took steps in the course of 2019. However, at the time of the start of the process, these steps had not yet been completed.

According to the entourage of the former president of the National Assembly, the treasury funds were transferred on the orders of Laurent Gbagbo, then head of state.

They also attest that the purchase of the villa was carried out as part of a compensation package granted by the Gbagbo regime to several personalities after the Ouagadougou peace accords (2007).

READ MORE: Côte d’Ivoire: Ouattara, Gbagbo, Bédié and Soro, or the never-ending war of egos

In addition to Amon Tanoh, the operation was supervised by Charles Koffi Diby, then Minister of Economy and Finance, Simone Mama Djedje, Director General of the Treasury at the time, Koné Tiemoko Meyliet, then Soro’s cabinet director. Blaise Compaoré’s wife, Chantal, and Alassane Ouattara are said to have benefited.

Uncertain future

Reinvigorated by the decision of the African Court of Human Rights (ACHR) ordering Côte d’Ivoire on 22 April to “stay the execution of the arrest warrant issued against [him]”, Guillaume Soro’s future is brutally clouded after this heavy sentence.

From Paris, where he has been living since his failed return to Abidjan at the end of December 2019, the former leader of the rebellion said he considered the verdict “a non-event”.

“The parody of a trial we have witnessed today is the ultimate proof that the rule of law is definitively buried by Alassane Ouattara. I am maintaining my candidacy for the presidency and I ask all my supporters to remain mobilized,” he said.

“Under these conditions, he has no chance to compete in the election. He is in a deadlock and the next few months will be complicated,” believes a source who knows him well.

Absent from a trial which they describe as “an attempt at political execution”, on the grounds that the ACHR ruling has asked to freeze the proceedings, his lawyers have not yet announced whether they intend to appeal. “We will exercise effective remedies to note and denounce this travesty of a trial,” confirms Mr. Brahima Soro, one of his lawyers.

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