The perpetual arrest and imprisonment of Cameroon’s top government officials is today so common that the country’s citizens are beginning to wonder if becoming a Minister, Director General or General Manager in Cameroon is doorway to the KONDENGUI CENTRAL PRISON. Often times has it been recounted in both national and international media of government officials accused, later arrested and sentenced to sundry years in prison for embezzlement of public funds. Another question many Cameroonians have asked, whose answers still blow in the wind is whether the alleged embezzled sums are ever recovered. If recovered, where is it kept or what is it used for?
Critics say the government of Cameroon is vehemently rejecting haven collected these very huge sums from the alleged embezzlers, all of whom have often been found guilty and now “fighting” space at the Kondengui Central Prison.
The huge sums embezzled by these “thought-to-be angels” has also helped expose the “dirty tricks” of government officials; most of whom always celebrate their appointments either as Ministers, General Managers or Director Generals. They celebrate perhaps the chance given them to “steal” from the state’s pockets.
After speaking to sundry Cameroonians who often got confused with the names, facts and figures of these top government officials now limping with virtually sealed lips of hopelessness at Kondengui and their plea for the publication of such facts, this reporter resorted to researching and profiling ten of these officials whose names once rang a bell to almost every Cameroonian but today means more or less nothing even to the “Sycophants” of the country.
Findings from several online publications notably; Cameroon Tribune, CameroonPostline.com, Nation Media Group, The Guardian Post, news.cameroon-today.com, Scrabbles from the Den, Aljazeera.com and many others reveal that ten of these top government officials have alone embezzled over 89 billion. From Chief Inoni’s 15 billion through the 24 billion of Michel Fotso, 2 billion, 616 million of former CRTV General Manager, Gevais Mendo Ze, the 24 billion of Marafa Hamidou Yaya, Polycarpe Abah Abah’s 6 billion, Atangana Mebara’s 15 billion, 514 million of former SONARA General Manager-Charles Metouck, 322 million of Olanguena Owono, 121.6 million of Jerome Mendouga 500 million and most recent, the 11.3 billion of Iya Mohammed. If one were to sum these colossal sums, it obviously will account to 89 billion, 76 million, 600.000 FCFA. This is money deserved to be used for the development of the state.
This reporter also spoke to some young Cameroonians who told him “when we struggle and get to power, we will also steal from where others are stealing”. It seems unarguably a misfortune to a nation that has hopes of emerging by 2035; misfortune, because even the youngest minds are preparing themselves to take part in the “stealing show”.
In 2006, the Cameroonian government led by His Excellency President Paul Biya, launched a high-profile campaign to tackle rampant high level corruption referred to by the media in French as “Opération Épervier” or “Operation Sparrow Hawk” in English. So far, the campaign has led to the arrest and imprisonment of a number of prominent figures including former Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni and several other ministers and heads of public companies. Following its introduction that saw the early arrest of Ondo Ndong, Joseph Edou and Gilles Roger Belinga, Siyam Seiwe, Etoude Ekotto and a host of others, “Operation Sparrow Hawk”, the Biya regime anti-corruption campaign has been celebrated for their great job in divulging the top embezzlers of the state. This reporter chooses to profile just ten of these bureaucrats.
1-Urbain Olanguena Awono (35 years Sentence)
Urbain Olanguena Awono is one time former Health Minister of Cameroon. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for corruption. The sentenced was handed down on Monday 12, August 2013 by a Cameroonian special criminal court, charged with fighting high-level graft. The court found Mr. Urbain Olanguena Awono guilty of embezzling more than 80 million CFA francs (122,000 euros or $162,000), in relation to a fake contract to deliver mosquito nets to hospitals according to Cameroonian legal sources. Legal sources say the judges found that Mr. Olanguena Owona “facilitated” the misappropriation of public funds by signing the paperwork that allowed Yves Rodrigue Soue Mbella get paid by Cameroon’s state Treasury. The court observed that Olanguena violated the procedure for the award of contracts, so as to benefit from the shady deal. The General Manager of Vision Sarl, Soue Mbella, who was accused of complicity to the embezzlement of State funds, has been on the run. The court sentenced him in absentia to a life jail term. One Timothée Onana Belibi, who was an accountant at the Minister of Public Health’s cabinet before his arrest, bagged 10 years on account of his complicity to the embezzlement of public funds.
It should be duly noted that, before his first verdict of 20 years in Prison, he had earlier been sentenced in June 2013 to 15 years in prison over a separate case involving the embezzlement of FCFA 322 million of tax payer’s money. The 20 years adds to the initial 15 years resulting to a total of 35years in prison. Mr. Olanguena has been in detention since 2008.
2- Polycarpe Abah Abah (25 years prison sentence)
Polycarpe Abah Abah, is former Minister of the Economy and Finance, who prior to his appointment on December 8, 2004 had served as the Director General of Taxes for over a decade (10 years). In the months following his dismissal from Government, the private media had been full speculation and titillating headlines announcing his impending arrest.
On January 13, 2015, the Special Crime’s Court, created in Cameroon to judge public fund embezzlers, sentenced former Finance Minister, Polycarpe Abah Abah to 25 years in prison. The latter was found guilty of embezzling 6 billion FCFA while he was Director of Taxes at the Ministry of Finance between 1998 and 2004. In addition to this heavy sentence, the TCS ordered the confiscation of Mr. Abah Abah’s assets, including some thirty residences across the country, eight vehicles, three tractors and financial assets in banks, estimated at 26 million FCFA.
According to the TCS, in keeping with a mechanism in effect in the country, Mr. Abah Abah, as Tax Director at that time, collected fees for Crédit foncier du Cameroun (CFC) that were not paid over to the Housing Bank. The former Tax Director, who later became Finance Minister, has consistently denied these allegations, insisting that the money collected in fees for the CFC was paid over.
3- Yves Michel Fotso (25 Years prison sentence)
Yves-michel Fotso is former General Manager & Director of Cameroon Airlines. From 1984 to 1986, he was Acting Director of TBC-Nigeria. In 1999 he was Executive Vice President of the Fotso Group, then Director of Cameroon Airlines between 2000 and 2003.
Three years later (2006), he became President of Capital Financial Holdings (Commercial Bank Group). In 2008, Yves Michel Fotso was investigated for two cases. He was auditioned and found guilty to have actively taken part of the Albatross affair and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison in the scandal of purchase of the presidential plane unfinished BBJ-2 and the liquidation of the Cameroon Airline (Camair).
Yves Michel Fotso (who is the son of the multi-billionaire, Victor Fotso, Mayor of CPDM-run Bandjoun Council), was before his arrest the Vice President of the Fotso Group which has huge business investments in many countries. He was arrested in Douala, and transferred to Kondengui, Yaounde Central Prison on December 1, 2010.
4- Charles Metouck (9 years, 9 months prison sentence)
Charles Metouck is former General Manager of the Cameroon Oil Refining Company (SONARA). The trial of the former General Manager of the National Oil Refinery, SONARA, and four others accused of embezzling over FCFA 514 million, began at the Yaounde-based Special Criminal Court, SCC on Wednesday, February 18, 2015.
A magistrate court in Limbe, South West Region slammed a 9-year, 9-month jail term on the former General Manager of the Cameroon Refining Corporation, SONARA-Charles Metouck for trespassing and destroying documents of the corporations. His co-accused, SONARA’s former Litigation and Insurance Officer, Jean Jules Edinguele received the same sentence. Arrested on February 18, 2013, his trial was speedy and on Wednesday April 24, 2013, Magistrate Theophilus Tastsi, President of the Limbe Magistrate Court sentenced Charles Metouck. The court also asked both men to pay a fine of 2.275.338 million francs CFA as cost of trial.
Metouck, 63 and Edinguele less than 60 each had seven charges. Metouck was cleared on one count accusing him of using a forged document to access his former office but the court said at the time of his arrest he was not in possession of the said document. Four of the six charges Metouck was guilty of, accused him of destroying documents, and his co accused, Edinguele received the slugged hammer of the law for forging documents that facilitated the process. Concerning, the famous “To Whom It May Concern” document, Metouck said the Board Chair, Ebong Ngole signed authorizing him to enter his former office after dismissal, the court declared Edinguele forged the document and the Board Chair’s signature.
Meanwhile, one month after Metouck’s arrest, the Budgetary and Financial Disciplinary Council of the Supreme State Control, in a report, charged the former General Manager of SONARA, for committing as many as 40 crimes in his budgetary management at refining company during the period of 2007-2010. He was asked to repay the staggering sum of FCFA 26 billion to SONARA. As a result of the charge, Metouck, at the end of his trial at the Limbe Magistrate Court, was transferred from the Buea Central Prison to the Yaounde Central Prison (Kondengui). On February 15, 2013 Ibrahim Talba Malla replaced Charles Metouck as GM immediately after a board meeting.
5- Gervais Mendo Ze
Born on December 25, 1944 in Nkong Mekak in Sangmelima, (Biya’s division of origin), Mendo Ze is a prolific chorister, founder of the famous ‘La Voix du Cénacle’. He is knight of honour of the French legion, officer of La Francophonie order and of cultural dialogues, professor of stylistic French and promoter of ethno stylistics. Like Ephraim Inoni, Mendo Ze is a traditional ruler.
The former General Manager of CRTV who goes down in history as one of President Biya’s most faithful confidants who crafted all sort of keep fits to please the presidential couple, including ornamental songs branding the First Lady as an epitome of societal morals, was arrested in connection to audio-visual tax money he allegedly swindled during his long reign at the helm of the state-run corporation, the CRTV.
Mendo Ze was accused of embezzling over 2.616 billion FCFA being funds accruing from audio-visual tax during his over 17 year-reign at the helm of the audio visual state corporation. He was arrested alongside four senior officials of the ministry of finance said to be also implicated in the racket. Mendo Ze’s journey to prison began right back in 2005 when he was sacked as general manager of the CRTV. That same year, he was appointed minister delegate in the ministry of communication with no assigned duties.
Mendo Ze underwent scrupulous grilling by the supreme state audit which found him guilty of 13 management errors some of which included undue authorization of benefits to some personnel of the state corporation, award of contracts without the knowledge of the competent commission, engagement of expenses not previewed in the budget of the corporation and which had no links with his missions, disbursement of undue funds to the tune of 155 million FCFA and the unjustified payment of executed contracts with money more than the initially agreed amount in the contract. The interrogators recommended that he be barred for five years from holding any public office.
6- Ephraim Inoni (20 years prison sentence)
Former Cameroon Prime Minister Chief Ephraim Inoni was sentenced to 20 years in prison for pilfering millions of dollars while in office. Inoni, who served as Prime Minister from 2004 to 2009 and sat on the boards of many state-run corporations, was arrested in April 2012 and charged with embezzling $582,557 in 2003. Though he denied the charges, the former prime minister, alongside his co-accused Jean Marie Atangana Mebara, also handed a 20 year jail sentence, were ordered to pay a fine of $175,000. The sum represented dues that had to be paid into the coffers of the Cameroon subsidiary of London-based firm Airport Portfolio Management (APM).
The court said Inoni, who during the same period chaired the board of APM’s local subsidiary, failed to respect the country’s laws on the award of the auditing contracts. The former prime minister’s younger brother is said to have been holding a 10% stake in the Cameroon branch of APM. According to prosecutors, that indicated that APM was a shadow company used to loot the state’s coffers.
Inoni was also accused of swindling $2,841,521 from the state in a separate charge. The amount represents a surplus on $8,128,540 disbursed by state-run oil company SNH (National Hydrocarbons Corporation) to CAMAIR as payment of arrears for airplanes leased from Ansett Worldwide, an American company. The transaction is said to have been made via Standard Chartered Bank Cameroon where the former premier was board chairman. The court, however, dropped three other charges against the former prime minister. One of them had linked him to the botched purchase of a presidential plane christened the “Albatross Affair”. He has been at Kondengui since April 15, 2012.
After serving for 15 years as Cameroon’s Ambassador to the United States, Jerome Mendouga has traded in the comfort of Embassy Row for the confines of Cameroon’s most notorious jail, as he fought to prove his innocence in a domestic scandal that became the proverbial albatross around the disgraced diplomat’s neck. Jerome Mendouga’s career took a very different path-taking him all the way from the comfort of Washington’s Embassy Row to the grime of Cameroon’s notorious slammer.
He was sentenced to prison since April 15, 2009, for alleged embezzlement of state funds related to the “Albatross Affair”. On May 3, 2012, the Yaounde Court of First Instance found him guilty of embezzling 121.6 million FCFA and deprived him of his basic Civic rights for 5 years. Following severe illness that so him struggle with frugal cardiac complications before getting into a coma, the former diplomat died at the Yaounde General Hospital, as confirmed by his family.
8-Jean Marie Atangana Mebara (20 Years Sentence)
On August 1, 2008, Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara, former the Minister of Higher Education, former Secretary-General at the Presidency, and former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, was remanded into custody for his role in the “Albatross Affair”, the ruined attempt to purchase an aircraft for President Biya.
Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara was the Minister of Higher Education from December 1997 to August 2002, the Minister of State and Secretary-General of the Presidency from August 2002 to September 2006, and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs from September 2006 until he was dismissed from the government in a cabinet reshuffle on September 7, 2007. His dismissal in September 2007 was said to have been linked to his reported desire to succeed Biya, in addition to Biya’s disapproval of a communiqué issued as a retort to Western criticisms of the July 2007 parliamentary election.
Mebara has been detained since August 2008 at the central prison of Yaoundé. He is accused of an “attempt” to embezzle 31 million US dollars (some 15 billion, 500 million FCFA). The accusation was based on a reply to a letter he received from the General Manager of Aircraft Portfolio Management – an international aviation consulting firm. In that letter, Mebara accepted the offer made to him by the General Manager to try and protect government funds that GIA has misappropriated and were illegitimately holding in their accounts to provide a presidential aircraft to the president of Cameroon. GIA was a shady company hired by Mebara’s predecessor and purposely set up and controlled by Yves Michel Fotso – the ex-General Manager of Cameroon Airlines (who had a clear conflict of interest) to lease aircraft into Cameroon Airlines. GIA went bankrupt in 2004.
Mebara has suffered immense physiological and mental trauma since being held captive in prison on trumped-up corruption charges. He is a devout Christian and has the support of Cardinal Tumi an important person in the Cameroon Christian hierarchy.
On May 3, 2012, Mebara was acquitted by presiding judge Gilbert Schlick of the Mfoundi high court in Yaoundé of all charges of embezzling or attempting to misappropriate the BB jet funds. On Monday 7 May 2012 the examining judge went to Kondengui prison and issued “new” charges against Mebara in order to keep him in prison.
9- Marafa Hamidou Yaya (25 years sentence)
Former presidential hopeful Marafa Hamidou Yaya was sentenced to 25 years for embezzlement in case he claims is politicised. According to the Associated French Press, the court found former presidential hopeful and senior minister Marafa Hamidou Yaya and ex-prime minister, Chief Ephraim Inoni guilty of embezzling $47.52m (24 billion FCFA) meant for the purchase of a presidential jet in 2004.
Hamidou Yaha was minister of territorial administration until he was sacked in a cabinet reshuffle by President Paul Biya. He was widely believed to harbor ambitions to succeed the 82-year-old leader. In letters published after he was arrested in April 2012, Hamidou Yaha has persistently denied he participated in any attempt to embezzle public funds and said he was a victim of a political plot. Since April 15, 2012, the onetime Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization has been at the Kondengui Central Prison.
10- Iya Mohammed (15 years sentence)
He is the youngest Kondengui inmate, sentenced 15 years in prison last August 28, 2015. The former president of the Cameroon Football Federation (FECAFOOT) Iya Mohammed was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for embezzlement. The former General Manager of the cotton producing company, known by its French acronym as SODECOTON, Iya Mohammed, was handed the sentence by a Special Criminal Court who passed its judgment on September 3, 2015 in Yaounde.
Iya Mohammed who was arrested in June 2013 alongside some of his former collaborators, was slammed a heavy imprisonment term for embezzling FCFA 11.3 billion of State funds. The former SODECOTON GM allegedly embezzled the money through shady deals over the past decade. According to the charge sheet, one of the accusations hanging over Iya`s shoulders is that he embezzled FCFA 51.694 million. He is said to have embezzled the money through the illegal increase of his salary and undue allowances.
In March 2013, the Budgetary and Financial Disciplinary Council of the Supreme State Audit revealed Iya Mohamed was found wanting of 20 managerial lapses that cost the state over FCFA 9 billion and fined him FCFA 2 million. In its final submission, the prosecution said Iya and six of his former collaborators are guilty of embezzling FCFA 11.3 billion at SODECOTON. They are: the onetime Deputy General Manager, Henri Clavier; one Christophe Mbaouigam; the former Sales Director, Mahamat Karagama; the former Director of Accounts, Lucien Fotso.
Originally built for 700 inmates following its construction in 1967, the Yaounde Kondengui Central Prison had over 3,500 prisoners in September 2008 as reported by The Washington Diplomat. This just goes a long way to imply, the Cameroon government will have to either expand its prisons or better still construct new bigger ones that will contain the fast-growing number of prisoners in the country.
In 2011, Amnesty International described the prison conditions to be “harsh, with inmates suffering overcrowding, poor sanitation and inadequate food. Prison guards are poorly trained, ill-equipped and their numbers inadequate for a big prison population.
The US Department of State has described Cameroon prison conditions as “draconian, inhuman and degrading.” This is contained in the 2009 edition of its annual country reports on human rights practices, released on March 11 this year. The document summarizes human rights issues in all countries around the world. The US State Department Human Rights report condemns both the physical conditions of Cameroon prisons and the slowness of Cameroon’s judicial system. According to the report, prisoners were kept in dilapidated, colonial-era prisons, where the number of inmates was as much as four to five times the intended capacity.
According to statistics provided by the annual human rights report, Douala’s New Bell Prison, built for 800 inmates, housed 2.813 inmates, Buea Prison, built for 200 inmates held 420 detainees while Kumba Prison built for 200 inmates held 481 persons by the end of 2009. Further figures as stated in the US State Department report indicates the dramatic overcrowding of the Maroua Central Prison which was originally built for 350 inmates but held more than 1000 detainees.
If all measures put by the state to bring embezzlers and guilty criminals to book is seemingly not working out, then; “PRAYERS” will probably do because one is still to understand how people still facilitate their way to these prison homes each day despite the terrible treatment given others who already are counting decades in these prisons, notably; Kondengui. WHO IS NEXT?
By Ajongakou Santos/ The Median Newspaper