28 August 2014

Cameroon: Abah Abah Defends 'Afrique Media' Payments

The Former Finance Minister was cross-examined by civil claimants yesterday, August 27, 2014, at the Yaounde Special Criminal Court.

One of Africa's famous TV channels, Afrique Media, benefitted from payments made by the Directorate of Taxes of the Ministry of Finance when it was headed by Polycarpe Abah Abah. Quizzed yesterday, August 27, 2014, at a sitting of the Yaounde-based Special Criminal Court by the State of Cameroon's counsel, Barrister Maloka Dikongue, on the regularity of the payment using para-fiscal tax recovery fees, Polycarpe Abah Abah argued that the payments were to pay for services rendered in a "Value Added Tax Sensitisation Campaign" undertaken by the Directorate of Taxes.

"Under which of the four heads authorised by the Minister of Finance's decision defining the sharing of recovery fees paid to the Directorate of Taxes and used for its functioning did the payment fall?" interrogated Barrister Maloka. "It fell under 'Funds to Fight Tax Fraud'," responded the former Finance Minister who is one of the accused in a case pitting him and co-accused against the State for fraudulently retaining over FCFA 4.9 billion between 1999 and 2004. The money was meant for the National Housing Loan Scheme (Credit Foncier du Cameroon).

Caught in a crossfire of questions from the civil claimants as well as the panel of judges headed by Mr. Justice Yap Abdou, Polycarpe Abah Abah explained that between October 1999 and October 2000, the 10 per cent authorised by Article 196 of the General Code of Taxes as recovery fees to be retained at source, was never retained. "Through some error by some of my staff, the sums recovered as contributions for Credit Foncier were entirely paid to the latter," he admitted.

Thus, the Protocol Agreement signed on September 1, 2000 aimed at recovering, first, 6 per cent of the wrongly perceived amount within 15 days and the remaining 4 per cent, progressively, "given that Credit Foncier was just recovering financially after 17 years of non-payment of dues by the State."

Concerning total amounts collected as workers' contributions for Credit Foncier, he said the balance of the latter's Account No 470532 at the National Treasury could show what was collected instead of what was obtained by court-ordered experts from "wrong sources", thus blowing up the sums collected by over FCFA 8 billion. "This whole case is just an arithmetic operation. It is A minus B," Abah Abah joked. "What justifies your payment by cheque for training in ENAM," the civil claimants asked. "Produce evidence. Do you have the cheque?" came Abah Abah's reply.

"On December 24, 2004, you signed a cheque to withdraw FCFA 300 million from the account without the Finance Minister's authorisation," stated Barrister Maloka. "Who was the Minister of Finance?" Abah Abah fired back. "You! So you ordered payment to yourself and mandated somebody to collect it? Unbelievable!" the lawyer commented, panting.

"This is what is called 'power'," joked Mr Justice Yap Abdou before hearing the accused's explanation that on December 24, 2004, no Director of Taxes had been appointed and the money withdrawn was used at the Directorate of Taxes to pay emoluments. As at press time, the cross-examination was still continuing.


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