Why Mebara Was Acquitted

 

Since the Mfoundi High Court dropped three out of five charges against former Secretary General at the Presidency, Jean Marie Atangana Mebara, there have been various conflicting media reports concerning Mebara’s freedom. On May 3, Mebara was acquitted on three count charges in what is now commonly known as the Albatross Affair.

 

 Confusion reigned due to the fact that some people consider that the charges in the Albatross file at the Mfoundi High Court are connected only with the racket for the leasing of the ill-fated plane (Boeing 767-200) for the Head of State. Alleged Embezzlement of FCFA 720 Million

 

 Mebara was acquitted on charge No. 4, which was the alleged embezzlement of FCFA 720 million, while his co-accused, Jerome Pierre Mendouga, former Ambassador to the United States, was slammed a 10-year jail term and ordered to pay FCFA 125 million. The FCFA 720 million in question was additional State funds that were disbursed purportedly for the leasing of the Albatross.

 

 The money was sent to the Cameroon Embassy in Washington by the then Minister of Economy and Finance, Michel Meva’a M’eboutou. In a fax message No. 000013/Minfi/B of January 27, 2004, addressed to the Internal Revenue Officer at the Embassy, the Minister had said that the money had been disbursed on the instruction of the Presidency, for use by the Ambassador.

 

 He did not disclose the mission for which the money had to be used. Meva’a  M’eboutou told the Examining Magistrate at the Mfoundi High Court, Pascal Magneguemabe, that it was the then Secretary General at the Presidency, Atangana Mebara, who had instructed him to send the money to Mendouga, as additional funds for the leasing and maintenance of the Albatross.

 Mebara had all along denied that he gave any instruction for the disbursement of the money by the Public Treasury.

 

 When Meva’a M’eboutou appeared at the Mfoundi High Court last year, as prosecution witness in the case, Mebara subjected him to an intense a cross-examination. Meva’a M’eboutou ended up admitting in court that the disbursement of the FCFA 720 million was not ordered by Mebara (The Post No. 01337 of Friday, April 20, 2012). It was thus not surprising that the court acquitted Mebara on that charge.

 

 Meanwhile, Mendouga, who accepted that he received the FCFA 720 million, had sworn that he spent everything on the Albatross. The Examining Magistrate had, in the charge of alleged embezzlement of the FCFA 720 million, said the accused persons did not produce justifications as to how the money was spent.

 

 So, the jury at the Mfoundi High Court headed by Gilbert Schlick had asked Mendouga to produce evidences to justify how he spent the FCFA 720 million. Mendouga produced series of documents. But he could not convince the jury with the expenditure of a total of FCFA 121 million, hence the jury declared him guilty of embezzling FCFA 121 million. 

 

Biya’s Name Saves Mebara

 

 Mebara was also acquitted of the alleged attempted embezzlement of US $ 29 million. He was the chief accused in the matter alongside Hubert Patrick Marie Essomba Otele and Kevin Joseph Walls, both of Aircraft Management Portfolio, APM London/Assets Portfolio Management, APM Cameroon.

 

 The US $ 29 million in question was part of the US $ 31 million (an equivalent then of over FCFA 24 billion) which Cameroon had, in August 2001, disbursed as advanced payment destined to the Boeing Company for the construction of a brand new Boeing Business Jet, BBJ-2, to serve as presidential plane.

 

 It turned out that Gia International, which was hired to play the intermediary role had ended up giving the Boeing Company only US $ 2 million as advance, and was, in principle, supposed to be keeping the remaining US $ 29 million.

 

 When the deal to purchase the new plane failed, Mebara, in May 2003, accepted a proposal from the General Manager of APM London that the firm be given an authorisation to collect the US $ 29 million from Gia, allegedly for safe keeping.

 

 Gia refused to discuss the matter with APM. But the Examining Magistrate, who led the judicial inquiry into the Albatross Affair, had concluded in his report that Mebara, Walls and others, wanted to get the money and embezzle it.

 

 His argument was based on the fact that Mebara and the APM officials had arranged that the money should be kept in the account of APM in London, instead of depositing the money in Cameroon’s Public Treasury. However, the jury said that the prosecution had failed to provide concrete evidences to prove its case that Mebara and the APM officials had the intervention to embezzle the money from Gia.

 

 The main point which saved Mebara, however, was his insistence that President Biya was very much aware of the mission to which he assigned APM to collect the money from Gia for safe keeping, and that the President had approved the mission.

 

 He rejected the charge that there was a plan to embezzle the money. Interestingly enough, the jury headed by Justice Schlick, believed Mebara’s claim that President Biya knew about the mission to which APM was assigned. He was thus acquitted on that charge. Kevin Walls and Essomba Otele were also acquitted of that charge.  

 

Alleged Embezzlement Of FCFA 1.5 Billion         

 

 Mebara was also acquitted of charge No. 3 in which he was accused of embezzling FCFA 1.5 billion. He was the principal accused person, while Essomba Otele and Kevin Walls and others were also accused persons in the matter.

 

 The alleged embezzlement was money that the former Secretary General at the Presidency, in May 2003, ordered the National Hydrocarbons Corporation, SNH, to disburse to APM, to settle a debt that the defunct Camair allegedly owed Ansett Worldwide in the US, for the leasing of a plane which was used by President Biya.

 

 

During the judicial inquiry into the matter in 2009, the Liquidator of Camair, Bekolo & Partners, had told the Examining Magistrate that a photocopied document which Kevin Walls sent to Camair in 2003 as proof of the payment of the money to Ansett, was not credible, and thus had not been taken into consideration (by the Liquidator), as evidence for the payment of the money.

 

 On August 24, 2009, the Examining Magistrate also invited two experts on financial investigation, Jean Pierre Ahanda Okalia and Paul Emmanuel Tonye, who were hired to get their own opinion on the issue. After examining the document in question, the two experts concluded that the document was credible and valid to serve as evidence that APM paid the money to Ansett.

 

 The Examining Magistrate informed Bekolo & Partners of the views expressed by the two experts. But the liquidators stood their position that the document was not in conformity with the standard regulations by which enterprises handle such matters. The Examining Magistrate ended up charging Mebara and the others for alleged embezzlement.

 

 The Examining Magistrate, however, in his report, had highlighted the contrasting positions of the liquidator and the experts, on the issue. In court, meanwhile, Mebara’s lawyers fought hard to convince the jury that the two experts were more competent on issues related to international financial transactions, than the liquidator, and thus the opinion they expressed on the document in question was the right one. The defence succeeded in convincing the jury to reject the position held by the liquidator and upheld that of Okalia and Tonye.

 

Pending Charges

 

Mebara would still have to answer to charge No. 6 concerning the alleged embezzlement of US $ 5 million (circa FCFA 3.875.000.000).  Mebara is the principal accused in the charge, and the former Cameroon Ambassador to the United States, Jerome Mendouga is co-accused.

 

 There is another charge involving Mebara and the former Deputy Secretary General at the Presidency, Chief Ephraim Inoni, linked to money which they both allegedly instructed SNH and the Standard Chartered Bank Cameroon to disburse for the settlement of debts which Camair allegedly owed Ansett Worldwide.

 

 That aside, Mebara is also involved in the charge of the alleged embezzlement of FCFA 287 million, which has to do with a contract that he gave to APM, to audit the leasing contracts of Camair. The principal accused in the charge is Essomba Otele of APM, since Kevin Walls who signed the contract on behalf of APM, is at large.

 

 There was, however, another matter which was listed as charge No. 5 in the Albatross file – the alleged embezzlement of FCFA 657.511.470, being money that Mebara instructed SNH to pay to Ansett, as debts for the leasing of a plane. The prosecution is alleged to have withdrawn the charge. This now leaves only three charges in the Albatross file at the Mfoundi High Court.

 

By Joe Dinga Pefok

 

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