15 August 2008

Cameroon: Albatross Saga - Swiss Court Investigates Fotso On Alleged Money Laundering

The Albatross (presidential plane) has taken new dimension. A Swiss court is now investigating the then General Manager of Cameroon Airlines, CAMAIR, Yves Michel Fotso, apparently for laundering US $ 31 million.

The money was reportedly disbursed secretly by the National Hydrocarbons Corporation, SNH, in 2001 as advance payment for the purchase of a new presidential plane (Boeing Business Jet, BBJ 11).

It would be recalled that in 2000, the presidency decided to buy a new plane to replace the outdated Pelican left over by late President Amadou Ahidjo.It is told that the presidency had to purchase the aircraft secretly to avoid confrontation with the World Bank, which had placed Cameroon under a structural adjustment programme, SAP to enable the country to attain the Completion Point of the Highly Indebted Poor Country, HIPC Initiative.

Thus, in 2001, some US $31 million was disbursed in two installments to the Boeing Company in the US for it to begin the construction of the BBJ 11 (The Post 0955). But the operation failed in 2002 when Jean Marie Atangana Mebara took over as Secretary General at the Presidency.

Apparently, Atangana Mebara decided to strike a fresh deal. It seems that when the deal to purchase the BBJ 11 flopped, not a single dollar out of the $ 31 million returned to the state coffer.

Fotso, who was reportedly linked to GIA International by a Cameroonian in the aircraft business sector, Jean Marie Assene Nkou, insists that he never touched a dollar in the deal.

He said SNH paid GIA International directly by cheques. But the intriguing thing is that GIA no longer exists. Some quarters are even insinuating that GIA was a scam, and that Fotso was part of it.

But Fotso is reportedly insisting to those interrogating him on the issue, that the man who is rightly supposed to be interrogated about GIA International and what happened to the US $ 31 million, is Assene Nkou, whom he said acted as an agent of GIA in Cameroon.

Another school of thought is arguing that it was not the presidency, but rather Fotso as CAMAIR General Manager who brought in Assene Nkou and GIA, into the deal.Thus, it is Fotso and not Nkou, whom the state should hold responsible.

Dirty Money

The allegation that Fotso had a finger in the presidential jet booty was reportedly made to the Swiss judicial authorities by a London-based consultancy, SYGMA Finance, run by a Cameroonian, Francis Nana.

It is being alleged that Fotso fraudulently diverted the US $ 31 million to his bank account in Switzerland, and that money in the said account is being used for criminal purposes.Another allegation is that Fotso mismanaged CAMAIR, when he was its general manager from 2000-2003.

However, what is said to have piqued the Swiss judicial authorities is the allegation of money laundering through a Swiss bank account.The Post learnt that a Swiss Federal judge, Gerard Sautebin, who is leading the investigation, had on April 28 signed a letter addressed to the authority of the Cameroon judiciary.

The letter reportedly informed the judiciary of the investigation as well as requested for its collaboration. But since the Cameroon judiciary on Saturday, April 26, seized Fotso's passport he cannot travel out of the country for interrogation by the Swiss court.

However, both the Swiss and the Cameroonian judicial authorities seem to have reached an agreement for Fotso to be interrogated in Cameroon.It was in this light that the Wouri High Court at Bonanjo, Douala, summoned Fotso to appear in the court on Monday, August 11. But Fotso reportedly excused himself through his legal advisers.

The judge postponed the matter to the next day, August 12.Meantime, a wild rumour had emerged on that day that the Wouri High Court was to order the arrest of Fotso, on that day, and to be taken to the New Bell Prison to await trial as part of the ongoing "Operation Sparrow Hawk."

Fotso on August 12 showed up at the Wouri High Court, where he was grilled for over three hours. Sources close to Fotso's legal advisers said he insisted on the same declarations he has made during a number of interrogations carried out by the Economic Crimes Unit at the Judicial Police headquarters in Yaounde.

Meanwhile, The Post learnt that the Cameroon judiciary will merely prepare and forward a report on the interrogation of Fotso by the Wouri High Court to the Swiss court. Contrary to rumours therefore, the Wouri High Court will not take any decision on the matter.

Rather, it will be for the Swiss court which is said to making independent inquiries to decide whether Fotso will stand trial or not.

Francis Nana vs Fotso, Ngamo

Meanwhile, The Post has leant that the matter filed against Fotso in Switzerland is also based on the protracted battle between him and Francis Nana, SYGMA Finance boss.It should be recalled that Thomas Dakayi Kamga, who was appointed in 2003 to replace Fotso as CAMAIR General Manager, had in March 2005, signed a six-month contract with Nana, for SYGMA Finance to act as financial adviser to CAMAIR.

Nana's firm soon came out with an audit report of Fotso's management of CAMAIR.. The audit reportedly described Fotso's management as "gestion calamiteuse" (catastrophic management). The report was also seemingly leaked out deliberately to the press and to many other quarters.

In reaction, Fotso dragged Nana to the Douala Court of First Instance at Bonanjo, on charges of defamation. In a ruling on December 15, 2005, the court found Nana guilty, and slammed him a six-month suspended sentence, and also a fine of FCFA 3 billion. Nana took an appeal at the Littoral Appeal Court in Douala. But in March 2008, the court ruled against him.

Meanwhile, Nana took his war with Fotso to the international scene, filing accusations left and right, against him. One of such accusations was filed to the Swiss judicial authorities, and that is what the Swiss court is presently investigating.

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