Marafa, Fotso jailed for 25 years

Marafa Amidou Yaya leaving Court




A court has sentenced Cameroon’s former interior minister and longtime presidential aide Marafa Hamidou Yaya to 25 years’ imprisonment in a corruption case that has been blighted by claims that it was politically motivated.

Yves Michel Fotso, the head of the multi-billion-franc Fotso business empire, was also jailed for 25 years after a panel of judges ruled that he took part in embezzling about CFA25 billion with Marafa and two others.

The case involves a failed plan to buy a new presidential jet more than a decade ago when Marafa was presidential chief of staff and Fotso the sole administrator of the defunct Cameroon Airlines.

Both men maintained during the trial that they were not guilty of stealing part of the money, which emerged after the deal failed to go through. The former prime minister, Ephraim Inoni, who was Marafa's assistant at the time, is still awaiting trial in the same matter.

Presiding Judge Gilber Schlick spent all night reading a lengthy report, giving details of the investigation and several sessions of court proceedings, before handing down the judgment and verdict early Saturday.

The guilty verdict came as no surprise to followers of Cameroon's corruption cases.

Marafa and Fotso will serve their term in confinement in special cells at the heavily guarded national gendarmes headquarters. Along with two others, they will also jointly pay some CFA21.3 billion in damages to the state of Cameroon and CFA1.1 billion in the cost of the trial, the court ordered.

Prosecutors had asked for a life sentence, the highest penalty for embezzlement of public funds, for both men. It was not immediately clear if any of the sides would appeal, even though it was unlikely that the prosecution would disagree with the judges.

Marafa downplayed the impact of the verdict as he came out of court early Saturday. "I am disappointed, not defeated," he said.

Three days to the verdict, he said he was not worried about its outcome, committing his future to "the almighty God" and the Cameroonian people, whom he said had the final say in the matter.

Armed troops were deployed ahead of the verdict amid fears of trouble from thousands of Marafa's supporters who have been following the trial outside the court. There were also reports of heavy deployments in northern cities where he hails from.

Special force gendarmes in combat and riot gear blocked the entire street outside the court and controlled access to the facility in Yaounde’s administrative district. Some journalists complained they were prevented from covering the trial.

Marafa had been one of the kingpins of the Biya administration. For nearly two decades he served in strategic positions including heading the secretariat of the presidency and the ministry of interior.

Opposition parties accused him of helping Biya and his ruling CPDM party to win elections from 2002 to 2007 when he was in charge of the polls. As head on the interior ministry, he also defended a controversial amendment of the constitution to remove a cap on presidential terms in 2008.

But privately he apparently nursed ambitions to be president himself. He was popular among Western diplomats, who knew about his plan to be president. And after he was arrested, he enjoyed popular sympathy from the public.

His arrest, trial and sentencing was view as politically motivated just as is the case with dozens other corruption trials either completed of still in court. It is unlikely that the sentencing buries the so called Marafa Affair.

 by – Eugene N Nforngwa

Source: Standard Tribune

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