27 December 2012

Cameroon: Court Dismisses Misjoinder Claim in AIDS Case

The Special Criminal Court (SCC) has rejected defence lawyers' claim that Urbain Olanguena Awono and five others were wrongfully joined in proceedings pitting the former Health Minister and the State of Cameroon.

Urbain Olanguena Awono was appearing before the special jurisdiction yesterday, December 27, 2012 alongside his co-accused to answer separate charges of embezzlement and complicity of embezzlement of State funds amounting to FCFA 287 million between 2002 and 2006. The amount was part of money from the Global Fund and World Bank to fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

The courtroom was tense as from 10.12 am yesterday. Olanguena Awono was charged with fraudulently obtaining FCFA 92 million by financing a publication on AIDS and award of a public contract to a company. During the same period, Maurice Feuzeu, then Permanent Secretary of the National Committee for the Fight against AIDS, presumably embezzled FCFA 22 million while Dr Chia Banfegha Rose a.k.a Mrs Fochingong, then Coordinator for same programme in the South West Region, allegedly embezzled FCFA 158 million. All accused pleaded not guilty.

Maurice Feuzeu's lawyer, Barrister Daniel Ngouompe challenged the competence of the court to try his client who was charged with embezzling FCFA 22 million which is less than FCFA 50 million that gives competence to the SCC. "My client was charged individually and so trying him jointly with the other accused is a misjoinder and procedurally wrong," he submitted. In the same vein, Dr Chia's lawyer, Barrister Atangana, said his client's charge was by no means linked to the other accused persons and the committal order makes no mention of joint action or complicity.

In response, Advocate General, Wesihe Ba David said the defence was wrong for the acts of embezzlement occurred during same period, 2002 to 2006, from the same Global Fund. In dismissing the claims of misjoinder and court's incompetence at this stage of the proceedings, Justice Francis Moukoury demanded the examination of the first prosecution witness, Retired State Control Inspector, Gilbert Bayoï. The latter gave a presentation of the general context and difficulties of the State Control's verification mission that he led in 2007 and from whose report accusation charges emanated. The case was adjourned to January 4, 2013 for the examination of the second prosecution witness.

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