6 May 2012

Cameroon: Atangana Mebara Still in Detention

The Maximum Security Central Prison situated in the Kondengui neigbourhood in Yaounde still hosts the former Secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic, Jean Marie Atangana Mebara, who was last Thursday acquitted of three charges of attempt and conspiracy to embezzle, amongst others, 31 million US Dollars. He had ordered the recovery of the money disbursed in 2001 by his predecessor for the purchase of a presidential jet from Boeing Company in the United States of America.

The Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde last week declared him not guilty of the three charges. Four days after his acquittal, Jean Marie Atangana Mebara has still not been set free. Late Friday evening, the surroundings of the Mfoundi High Court's State Counsel's office were crowded with relatives, friends and reporters waiting for a sign from the lead counsel, Claude Assira who was expecting the document necessary for the Yaounde Central Prison to grant liberty to the former Secretary General. Up till 9.00 pm, the document had not been issued by any of the State Counsels. Some informed sources said Atangana Mebara would be kept in custody to answer two more charges of attempted embezzlement still within the framework of the "Albatros Affair."

Speaking to Cameroon Tribune on Sunday May 6, 2012, Barrister Claude Assira said initially a total of six charges had been brought against his client Atangana Mebara by the Examining Magistrate, Pascal Magnaguemabe. The first charge was withdrawn while three others were set in two separate committal orders arraigning Atangana Mebara to trial. Mebara was acquitted by the Mfoundi High Court "totally" not "partially" of the three charges last May 3, 2012, the Counsel pointed out.

However, two other charges remain, said the learned barrister. The first of the two concern an attempt to embezzle FCFA 4 billion disbursed by the National Hydrocarbons Corporation, SNH, for payment of Cameroon Airlines' bills to the aircraft leasing company, ANSETT. "In this charge, it is claimed that his co-accused is Chief Ephraim Inoni," he said. On September 18, 2009, the Examining Magistrate, on his own, found one other charge which was an attempt to embezzle the sum of 5 million US Dollars. However, the Barrister does not agree with the view that the detention of his client is linked to both charges. "He had been heard on both charges two years ago but until now, nothing has been done," he explained. Furthermore, he continued, Atangana Mebara has spent the entirety of the preventive detention period legally authorised for both charges.

"For the FCFA 4 billion, the preventive detention period expired on February 6, 2010 while for the 5 million US Dollars, the preventive detention period ended on June 18, 2011. So there is no judicial reason to keep Atangana Mebara in detention," he argued. Concerning the failure to obtain the order to set free Atangana Mebara on Friday May 4, the lead counsel regretted: "After the college of judges led by Gilbert Schlick issued the acquittal on Thursday and signed the acquittal order on Friday, the Presiding Judge's registrar took the document to the Legal Department for execution. But the State Counsels disappeared from their offices and we were told late in the night that they will not return for the day," he explained, promising to use all legal means to obtain his client's freedom.

However, he hinted that it was not impossible for the two charges to be brought back to the fore by the Legal Department. "We have been summoned to the Examining Magistrate's office on Tuesday May 8, 2012," he disclosed, believing that something might be cooking for his client. "Another detention order might be issued tomorrow," he said.

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