“A court in Ivory Coast on Wednesday sentenced 15 former top cocoa sector officials to 20 years in prison and heavy fines for corruption under ex-president Laurent Gbagbo, in a bid to clean up the industry in the world’s top cocoa grower.
The defendants, popularly known in Ivory Coast as the ‘cocoa barons’, included the former head of the state’s Fund for the Development and Promotion of Coffee and Cocoa Planters (FDPCC), Henry Kassi Amouzou.
He was convicted on Wednesday alongside the former heads of Ivory Coast’s main cocoa regulators: the Coffee and Cocoa Board (BCC), the Fund for Regulation and Control (FRC), and the Authority for the Regulation of Coffee and Cocoa (ARCC).
The officials were arrested in 2008 and accused of abuse of power, misuse of public funds, embezzlement and forgery between 2002 and 2008. Fourteen other defendants were acquitted on Wednesday.
“The tribunal to judge Henry Kassi Amouzou and others has decided on a verdict of 20 years in prison,” said presiding judge Coulibaly Souleymane.
“The 15 defendants must also pay the Ivorian state, a civil plaintiff, the total sum of 67.246 billion CFA francs ($138 million) in compensation,” he added.
The court ordered the confiscation of all the assets of those convicted. Defence lawyer Luc Adje said those convicted would immediately lodge an appeal. They have 20 days to do so.
Adje said the statute of limitations on some of the charges had expired, meaning that his clients should not have been convicted of them.
It was the first time the head of any of Ivory Coast’s state-controlled cocoa agencies had been convicted of graft, despite reports from United Nations and non-government organisations including Global Witness of widespread corruption during Gbagbo’s time in power, from 2000 to 2010.
“This is a good step forward in ending impunity in business in Ivory Coast,” said one political analyst, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case. “This should be continued in other sectors.”
Gbagbo is in detention at the International Criminal Court as prosecutors seek to build a case against him by a mid-November deadline. Gbagbo is accused of plunging Ivory Coast into civil war instead of relinquishing power after losing elections to Alassane Ouattara in 2010.
Ouattara has won praise for rapidly reviving the Ivorian economy after the brief 2011 war.
His government launched an audit of public procurement after donors voiced concern that corruption could discourage investors from supplying much-needed capital.”
11/6/13, “Ivory Coast ‘cocoa barons’ jailed for embezzling money,” BBC
“A court in Ivory Coast has sentenced 15 former top officials to 20 years each in prison for embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from the cocoa and coffee industry.
They were convicted of embezzling tax revenues during the rule of former President Laurent Gbagbo.
Ivory Coast is the world’s largest producer of cocoa.
At least 13 others were acquitted at the trial in the main city of Abidjan.
The accused were arrested in 2008 after Mr Gbagbo ordered the investigation into allegations of widespread corruption in the coffee and cocoa sectors.
Mr Gbagbo disputed the result of elections in November 2010, which the UN said he had lost, and refused to leave office resulting in a five-month stand-off.
Forces loyal to current President Alassane Ouattara, backed by UN and French troops, captured Mr Gbagbo in April 2011.
He is now in detention at The Hague awaiting trial on four charges of crimes against humanity, which he denies.
The conflict badly affected Ivory Coast’s cocoa industry, which accounts for 40% of global supplies of the natural raw ingredient used in chocolate”