Marafa Hamidou Yaya has told the Mfoundi High Court to sentence him for obeying President Biya, not for embezzlement. Marafa, Yves Michel Fotso, Julienne Nkounda and others, are facing trial on charges of complicity in the alleged embezzlement of 29 million US dollars meant for the purchase of an aircraft for Biya.
During the court session of September 6 presided at by Chief Justice Gilbert Schick reserved for the defence to plead their case, Marafa declared: “If that is the law, sentence me for being very obedient to the President, sentence me for being a detriment to a small group, sentence me because of the hope I want to bring to Cameroonians. But don’t sentence me for an embezzlement crime I never committed. Go and inform Etoudi that I am a prisoner for having obeyed instructions from above,” Marafa said in a dead silent court.
Expressing surprise that the prosecution lawyers failed to table documented proof in court to incriminate him, Marafa, who was Secretary General at the Presidency when Biya ordered that a plane be bought for his trips, stated that if the prosecutors were straight, they would have brought all the 14 witnesses they announced at the start of the proceedings for grilling in court.
Marafa disclosed that when he was dropped from Government, he wrote to Biya, stating how he wanted to travel to France for medical attention.
He said after a second thought and following persistent rumours of his alleged involvement in the embezzlement scandal, he wrote to Biya once more expressing his willingness to stay put to face the justice system in order to clear his name. “I have already been sentenced going by the treatment I am receiving,” he held. Delving into his background and telling the court that he knows Cameroon very well, Marafa stated that he was born in the north of Cameroon in a family of 12 and his father who trained him to work very hard in life was a modest trader.
He said he studied in the south of the country, got married to a woman from the Littoral Region, having Anglophones as most of his friends and studied in America on scholarship after leaving the University of Yaounde. Upon graduation in America, he said he decided to come back and serve his country and was employed as an oil engineer to work with the National Hydrocarbons Corporation, SNH.
While Julienne Nkounda told the court that she had nothing to add to the defence her lawyer had submitted, Fotso said he was surprised with the fictitious declarations of the prosecutors during the court session of August 27 when they (prosecutors) presented their case. He said he had made himself available to the judicial police since 2008 when his passport was seized but given back later and that after that incident; he has never attempted to escape. He refuted charges being placed against him in connection with the embezzlement of US 29 million dollars.
He considered declarations by the prosecutors that he is a shareholder of GIA International as defamatory. Fotso told the court that the Bank of America has vindicated him when they wrote to his lawyers on August 28 stating that after investigations in the US, they found nothing linking him to GIA. He reiterated that the case he just filed in the US is against the State of Cameroon and not against any particular individual.
According to Fotso, the State of Cameroon would have to respond to why it violated the settlement agreement signed in 2006 when Cameroon won the case against GIA following the failure by the latter to deliver the plane in March 2002. In addition, he claimed he was physically assaulted at the gendarmerie detention cell. He declared that he is not sad because of his professional experience and that no matter the pressure from the executive on the judiciary, the facts cannot be changed.
The BEITH Connection
Counteracting the charges of the prosecuting lawyers on August 27, defence lawyers to Marafa, Fotso and Nkounda took turns presenting their submissions to clear their clients of the charges. Barrister Alice Nkom, who stood in for Nkounda, said the accusation that her client irregularly created the bank account of BEITH Ltd when she was Deputy General Manager of the CBC Bank through which prosecutors claim 16 million of the 29 million dollars was sent to Fotso, is false.
She disclosed that the Bank account of BEITH was created as far back as 1997 several years before moves to buy the presidential plane started. It was stated that the 16 million sent to BEITH was for the financing of CAMAIR planes and not part of the money meant for the purchase of a plane for Biya.
A Douala-based consultancy that was hired to carry out investigations had traced 16 million dollars sent by GIA into BEITH’s account at the CBC bank. Fotso’s defence team highlighted failure by the prosecutors to table documented proof in court to back their affirmations and rumours. For example, they said the prosecutor was unable to prove that Fotso was a shareholder of GIA as claimed.
They reiterated that Meva’a M’Eboutou stiffly stood against payments to GIA through a standby letter of credit on grounds that such a document could leak to IMF and the World Bank which were against the purchase of the plane at the time the country was under a structural adjustment programme. It should be recalled that while testifying in court, Meva’a had stated that he received instructions from Marafa ordering him to pay 29 million dollars to GIA in 72 hours even though he failed to table a written document to back the claim.
The defence lawyers told the court that the 72 hours deadline agreed on during a meeting at the Presidency chaired by Marafa was for Meva’a to pay 2 million dollars to GIA and not 29 million dollars as the prosecutors are claiming. They argued that Meva’a M’Eboutou, then Minister of the Economy and Finance, who received instructions from somewhere else, should take responsibility for paying the 29 million dollars into the account of GIA in cash.
In response to charges against an MP, Assene Nkou, whom the prosecutors say introduced GIA to Fotso, the defence lawyers argued that if it was Fotso who created GIA in order to swindle money meant for the presidential plane, then there was no need prosecuting Nkou. They questioned whether Fotso benefitted from the liquidation of GIA if truly he was a shareholder.
Fotso acknowledged a document he had sent to SNH containing the list of members of GIA with his added with a pen. He, however, argued that his intention was to use that document to follow up the financial transactions of GIA after Meva’a M’Eboutou had blundered by sending the 29 million dollars to GIA. He noted that the proposal he made was rejected as the GIA officials refused to validate the document, arguing that nobody needed to monitor their financial dealings. A document containing the names of GIA officials and board members found in the case file does not have Fotso’s name, The Post gathered.
Fotso and Marafa were also accused by the prosecutors of jointly creating a company called Sterling Air Service and one other which, according to them, were signs that the two are accomplices in the embezzlement case. Again, the defence argued that the prosecutors failed to table documents to justify that claim. They said even if the two jointly owned companies; the prosecutors were still unable to prove how such companies were involved in the alleged embezzlement scandal.
Answering two fundamental questions, the prosecutors have been harping on notably: “where is the plane? And where is the money? Meanwhile, the defence lawyers had this to say. “The Cameroon government refused to take the plane and signed another contract directly with the Boeing Company without passing through GIA. That is how they bought the [ill fated] Albatross.”
On where the money was, the defence told the court to ask Meva’a M’Eboutou who sent the money to GIA in cash against a proposal for payment to be done through a standby letter of credit. It was revealed that when GIA failed to deliver following the terms of the contract with Cameroon, the matter was taken to a court in the US and the ruling was in favour Cameroon.
It was said Cameroon even signed a satisfaction document endorsing the manner in which the issue was handled.
That was when Otele Essomba and Assets Portfolio Management, APM, were brought in to recover indemnities to be paid to Cameroon by GIA. The defence said by then, Marafa was no longer the Secretary General at the Presidency. The defence lawyers urged the panel of judges handling the case not to be led into playing politics. They said the highly militarised court environment was not conducive for them and their clients to work in serenity.
Condemning the loopholes being observed in the Cameroon judicial system, they asked where in the world gendarmerie camps have become prisons and where in the world have they heard that people are acquitted but are still held in detention. They also questioned where on earth the defence are refused access to a case file. The court session, which started September 6 at 1:30 pm, ended at 10:30 pm when Justice Schlick adjourned the matter for deliberation. The verdict would be delivered on September 21, 2012 at 11 am.
By Yerima Kini Nsom & Nformi Sonde Kinsai
Source : The Post