Cameroon: Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga arrested in Martinez Zogo case

By Mathieu Olivier

Posted on Wednesday, 8 February 2023 11:21
Cameroonian businessman Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga ©MABOUP

Delayed for several days, the arrest of businessman Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga finally took place on 6 February.

Gendarmes from the secrétariat d’État à la Défense (SED) waited until the early hours of February 6 to visit Amougou Belinga’s home, located in south Yaounde’s Beac complex. The businessman, suspected of involvement in the murder of journalist Martinez Zogo, was arrested at around 5:30 AM on the orders of SED chief Galax Yves Landry Etoga.

Home raid and additional arrests

According to our sources, several dozen armed men in uniform took part in the operation, which began at around 4:30 AM and had been prepared overnight by Colonel Jean-Pierre Etoulou, according to Reporters Without Borders.

The head of media group L’Anecdote, which includes TV stations Vision 4 and TéléSud, was then brought to the SED, where he was taken into custody at around 6 AM and allowed to see his lawyers. Meanwhile, officers conducted a search at his home and arrested several others in his entourage.

Among them was journalist Bruno Bidjang, media general manager for L’Anecdote, whose home was also searched by SED officers early on 6 February. Bidjang is one of Amougou Belinga’s top lieutenants. Our sources say that both men’s offices were also included in the search.

Amougou Belinga’s father-in-law Etoundi Nsoe was also arrested shortly afterward. A former presidential guard commander, Etoundi Nsoe is the father of the businessman’s current wife, Mélissa – who was also questioned before being released at the end of the day. Nsoe is also Amougou Belinga’s director of security, heading up the service in charge of his bodyguards, largely composed of prison guards. One of Amougou Belinga’s daughters, Leïla (from a first marriage), was also interrogated before being released.

Bidjang and Nsoe, both in police custody, are now being questioned about details of the businessman’s schedule between 17 January, the date of Martinez Zogo’s abduction, and 22 January, the date the journalist’s body was found. The media boss is suspected of having ordered Zogo’s murder and of having been present while the latter was beaten to death.

Justin Danwe, a disputed source

According to a source close to the case, Amougou Belinga was specifically implicated by Lieutenant-Colonel Justin Danwe, who is said to have confessed to SED investigators that he led the commando team responsible for Zogo’s disappearance. According to the General Directorate of External Research (DGRE) officer [Cameroon’s counterintelligence service] in charge of special operations, Amougou Belinga ordered the violent kidnapping and witnessed at least part of it.

Our same source says the events took place in one of the businessman’s buildings. According to the investigation’s initial elements, and in particular the autopsy, Martinez Zogo was subjected to a long interrogation, punctuated by blows and physical abuse, some of which were carried out with a knife. According to Danwe, Amougou Belinga was present for part of what the investigation describes as a torture session.

Amougou Belinga’s defence team, led by Charles Tchoungang, former president of the Cameroon Bar Association, immediately questioned the statements made by DGRE lieutenant colonel Danwe, whom he called “a more than unreliable source.” Danwe – whose boss, Divisional Commissioner Léopold Maxime Eko Eko, was also taken into custody – is currently still in SED detention, where he may quickly be running into Amougou Belinga.

Will the ‘Zogo Affair’ become the ‘Belinga Affair’?

Amougou Belinga’s arrest lends the Zogo case a very strong political dimension. A suspect since 1 February, after Danwe’s interrogation, the businessman managed to avoid arrest for several days, largely because of his political and media stature. Our sources reported talk of him being taken into custody as early as 2 February.

The presidency, through the intermediary of Secretary General Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, was then informed and consulted, while the information about the potential arrest was also shared with Minister of Defence Joseph Beti Assomo, who had already been one of the first to inform Eko Eko of Danwe’s statements against the DGRE and its boss.

But the operation was then delayed and the decision was taken to place Amougou Belinga – who also holds a Central African diplomatic passport – under police surveillance while completing further verification of the information concerning him. According to an internal source, the SED was able to rely on phone taps offered by Cameroonian intelligence’s technical services, under the direction of Israeli advisors to the presidency.

Did Amougou Belinga’s networks also use their influence to delay the businessman’s arrest? Minister of Justice Laurent Esso is currently in the spotlight. Also cited in Danwe’s testimony for having been in contact with Amougou Belinga during Zogo’s kidnapping, the justice chief could also find himself answering the SED’s questions.

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