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Côte d’Ivoire: Former Prime Minister Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Corruption

(May 15, 2020) On April 28, 2020, the Tribunal Correctionnel (Criminal Trial Court) of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, convicted former Prime Minister Guillaume Soro in absentia of embezzlement and money laundering. The trial lasted only a few hours and was boycotted by Soro’s lawyers in protest of what they claimed were politically motivated, trumped-up charges. Soro, who lives in exile in France, was convicted of embezzling public funds and laundering money in the purchase of his residence in Abidjan in 2007, when he was prime minister. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined 4.5 billion CFA (Financial Community of Africa) francs (about US$7.4 million). Furthermore, he was ordered to pay 2 billion CFA francs (about US$ 3.3 million) in damages to the Ivorian state, and his property in Abidjan was confiscated. His civic rights were also suspended for five years, making him ineligible for the presidential election of October 2020, for which he was a candidate.

Court-Ordered Suspension of Arrest Warrant Against Soro

 A few days before Soro’s trial, on April 22, 2019, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights ordered the government of Côte d’Ivoire to suspend its arrest warrant against Soro. The African Court deemed the arrest warrant to be unfairly prejudicial to Soro’s political rights as a candidate in the election. The government of Côte d’Ivoire appears to have disregarded the African Court’s order in proceeding with the trial. However, the Tribunal Correctionnel of Abidjan did issue a new arrest warrant to replace the previous warrants, which were considered null and void.

Additional Charges Against Soro

In December 2019, an Ivorian prosecutor charged Soro, who is a former rebel leader, for allegedly preparing a military insurrection against the government. The prosecutor claimed to have seized numerous pieces of evidence in the execution of search warrants, including machine guns, RPGs, flame-throwers, anti-tank missiles, AK-47 assault rifles, and ammunition for these weapons. Soro’s attorneys denied the charges, claiming that they were a set-up by the government.

More recently, six persons claiming to be victims of Soro’s brutality filed a complaint in Paris against Soro on May 7, 2020, accusing him of torture, assassination, and war crimes while he was a leader of an armed rebellion between 2003 and 2011. The plaintiffs allege that Soro ordered the death of five members or ex-members of the rebellion during this period. Soro’s lawyers claim that the Ivorian government is also behind these charges.

Soro was long allied with Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara until they had a falling out in early 2019, when the latter allegedly wanted to rein in Soro’s presidential ambitions.