A Political Witch Hunt of Epic Proportions For Komi Koutche in Benin

No one in Benin political memory would have been so much persecuted. Komi Koutché became since 2016, the national “pigñata” of the sitting government in Cotonou. On the pretext of fighting corruption, this young man, for whom many predicted a bright political future  has been unjustly harassed, slandered and sued, all because of his popularity, his swift political ascension and  impressive track record. Since most of the facts fueling  such unprecedent witch-hunt are not well known to the general public, let’s review in chronological order the facts surrounding the relentless attempt to destroy the political career of the former State Minister of Benin by the Government of Benin and his President.

 July and August 2017: The Republic of Benin Council of Ministers presided by the Head of State Patrice Talon, released two audit reports. The first audit report  was about the Benin cotton industry in Benin and the second one about the management of  the National Microfinance Fund (NMF). The council of Ministers was transformed for the occasion into an indictment court. The council pronounced a staunch indictment  on  Mr. Komi Koutche’s Management of the National Microfinance Fund and  alleged misconduct by the audit reports. Joseph Djogbenou, then Minister of Justice, was instructed to initiate legal proceedings against Mr. Koutche; It is worth nothing that the Minister was not extended due process and wasn’t heard in the proceeding as required by auditing rules and regulations.

August 2017: Mr. Komi Koutché filed a complaint before the  Benin constitutional court on two counts  (the Cotton’s audit and the National Microfinance  Fund’s audit) alleging the violation of his rights to be heard during the audit proceeding as required by law for all audit proceeding.

December 5, 2017: The constitutional court, presided by Professor Theodore HOLO, squashed the cotton audit ruling and declares that the government has violated the country’s constitution. The appeal about the National Microfinance Fund (NMF) hasn’t be reviewed because the government didn’t respond to the investigatory measure indicated by the Court;

June 07, 2018: Joseph Djogbenou, Minister of Justice responsible for prosecuting Komi Koutche became President of the Constitutional Court.

December 06, 2018: The Djogbenou court brings back Komi Koutche’s NMF appeal and proceeds to an absolute turnaround in the case-law stating that the lack of hearing during an audit procedure is not a violation of the Constitution.

April 02, 2018: Convocation of Komi Koutche by the investigating judge of the first office of the Cotonou Court of First Instance in April 04, 2018. Komi Koutche living abroad could not be present within that period;

April 04, 2018: Signature of an arrest warrant by the judge;

April 06, 2018: Presentation of Komi Koutche to the judge. He finds no reason to arrest him as requested by the prosecutor. By order, he sets aside the arrest warrant of April 4, 2018. Disciplinary proceedings will be opened afterwards against Komi Koutche.

July 2018: Creation of the CRIET (Criminal enforcement of financial and terrorism offences Court) and transfer of Komi Koutche file to the CRIET;

August 27, 2018: The government decides to cancel Komi Koutche’s regular passport and all police units are being instructed via a radio message to make his extrajudicial arrest.

December 14, 2018: Komi Koutche was arrested in Madrid on a fraudulent notification to Interpol of the loss of his passport. The government notarized the same day the April 04, 2018 arrest warrant, previously canceled by the judge, and transmited it to Interpol. An extradition request was transmitted the same day.

December 27, 2018: Aware of the false alibi for the arrest, a new arrest warrant for regularization was issued under the pretext that Komi Koutche did not respond to a CRIET convocation on December 18, 2018 while he was incarcerated in Madrid. An additional extradition request was made to the Spanish courts;

January 17, 2018: Release of Komi Koutche by the Spanish investigating judge handling the case;

April 23, 2019: Spanish justice rejects Komi Koutche’s extradition request without the possibility of an appeal, the main reasons being the alleged offenses could not be justified, the CRIET does not offer guarantees of a fair trial, the basics principles of law would be violated since the ordinary judge in charge of the case was relinquished for the benefit of a new special court. Spanish justice concludes this is a political persecution.

Komi Koutche’s team believes his persecution is political with the intent to to convict by default the most feared political opponent of the regime
Komi Koutche’s team believes his persecution is political with the intent to convict by default the most feared political opponent of the regime

July 2, 2019: At its 109th session, Interpol, upon reviewing the issue through its legal department, concludes it’s a political file and decides to delete all the data in its database about Komi Koutche. Moreover, Interpol notifies all its operation worldwide that any police collaboration under the pretext of international cooperation would be a violation of the constitution of the organization. This position applies as well for the French and the Guinean criminal police.

July 22, 2019: Komi Koutche is deprived of all rights to obtain administrative and civil status documents in his country.

September 24, 2019: Komi Koutche is referred back to the CRIET criminal chamber. The lawyers raise a second appeal in the case;

September 30, 2019: On behalf of the Supreme Court, the government recruits 5 retired magistrates on about twenty files. The 5 magistrates selected raise the problem of objectivity. Curiously, it is at this moment that the dossier is activated at the Supreme Court and conveniently, one of the 5 retired magistrates is designated rapporteur; the NMF file is entrusted to one of these magistrates;

November 14, 2019: Two lawyers from Joseph Djogbenou and Quenum Severin’s firms requested an abbreviation for proceedings deadline, which was granted to them by the Supreme Court;

December 02, 2019: The African court of human rights orders the Beninese government to rescind the abusive decision to cancel Komi Koutche’s passport and shall refer the rest of the claims to the fund;

December 13, 2019: The U.S. administration concluded that this is a lawsuit based on political persecution.

January 28, 2020: Komi Koutche’s lawyers have been convened on the first appeal. It should be recalled that the lawyers mentioned the regularization warrant of December 27, 2018, issued under the pretext their client had not responded to a convocation on December 18, 2018 was pointless since the issuers knew that Komi Koutche was already incarcerated in Madrid during this period. Curiously, the appeal was dismissed.

From December 14, 2018 to January 17, 2019, Komi Koutche was in prison in Madrid, how could this be possible for him to respond to a convocation in Cotonou on December 18, 2018 ?

March 10, 2020: Komi Koutche’s lawyers are convened by the Supreme Court in March 13, 2020 for the second appeal. The statement of the opposing party was not communicated to them as is the usual practices of law

March 11, 2020: redeployment of CRIET judges at the Council of Ministers following the spectacular turnaround of the constitutional court and the adoption of a new law to install the right to appeal to a higher court. The judges are, for the most part, those who animated the CRIET in its previous format. There is every reason to believe that all of this was done to give a distorted impression of having corrected the grievances of the international community and those of other credible jurisdictions, before passing the Komi Koutche’s file to trial.

Then State Minister of Finance (left) signing the second millenium challenge compact under with the CEO of MCC Dana Hyde under the watchful eyes of Former US Vice President and Presidential hopeful Joe Biden and former two term President of Benin Boni YAYI

March 12, 2020: The Special Prosecutor of the CRIET, during a press briefing on the criminal session which opened on March 16, 2020, evoked the NMF file for which Komi Koutche is subject of legal actions, among the dossiers to be studied…However this dossier was still the subject of a cassation procedure and the hearing on the cassation was in March 13, 2020. Apparently the Special Prosecutor without any statement from the Supreme Court, already knew the decision which would be taken the day after its press conference;

March 13, 2020: Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court dismisses the appeal and returns the file to the CRIET prosecutor as he had prophesied the day before.

March 24, 2020: Komi Koutche’s lawyer receives a summons to appear for his client. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic where almost all the airports in the world are closed, we can only wonder how Komi Koutche, who is known to live outside Benin,  can respond to such a convocation. To this must be added that despite the injunctions of the African court of human rights, the government did not comply with the injunction requesting the cancellation of the passport. Even if Komi Koutche can travel, a risk of extrajudicial arrest if he steps into the country remains, based on a radio message that accompanied the decision to cancel the passport. Moreover, the authorities announced a systematic 14-days quarantine for of all those who come from abroad. How under these conditions is it possible to respond to a summons on April 03, 2020.

This chronological summary of the facts and circumstances shows we are not in a fair trial but in a political deal intended to convict by default the most feared political opponent for the regime, as it was already the case with other opponents in exile. In any cases, Komi Koutche has already one advantage: this matter is known by international judicial authorities which have exposed the subterfuge.

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