Marafa: A victim of vaulting political ambition?
In spite of his involvement in the Albatross scandal, there is widespread belief that Marafa is primarily paying the price of his presidential ambitions, which he freely discussed with foreign diplomats. As US Ambassador Niels Marquardt stated in a February 2007 WikiLeaks cable, “He is the sole Cameroonian to have admitted, albeit privately, to the Ambassador that he harbors that ambition.” A heresy in a country where the issue of presidential succession is a taboo topic, and where the labeling of any political figure as “un homme ambitieux” (an ambitious fellow) is not a term of praise/endearment, but a political death sentence. It did not help matters that Marafa was the favorite of western diplomats among the pack of real and imagined presidential “heirs.”
As ambassador Marquardt noted in his 2007 cable, “a dynamic, personable and energetic man, Marafa Hamidou Yaya had an excellent relationship with the US Embassy – as well as the French, Japanese, British, and others. Like PM Inoni, Marafa's intelligence and effectiveness had raised his national profile and made him a possible presidential candidate – perhaps even the front-runner… He was also the likely preference of every Western Ambassador in town, including this one.” As an article in Jeune Afrique, published three weeks before his arrest (titled “a heir apparent in troubled waters”) indicated that, Marafa acted recklessly and committed a “major tactical error” by discussing his presidential ambitions with the US ambassador – an act which, when made public by Wikileaks, instantly made him a marked man to the various ethno-regional lobbies and political clans waiting in the wings to replace Biya, and who have refined the art of discrediting and humiliating potential rivals, and even sending them off to Kondengui whenever possible.
Chief Inoni: Vicariously Guilty: While Marafa’s involvement in the Albatross affair was a fairly straightforward one, Inoni’s involvement is still confusing, as evidenced by the contradictory, mitigating and even exculpatory statements attributed to high ranking government officials familiar with the case, including President Biya himself. According to a June 2008 US embassy cable published by Wikileaks, “Inoni told the Ambassador that he has provided convincing evidence to Biya that he was not involved in the Albatross shenanigans. An Inoni family member told Poloff (code for Political Officer) on May 29 that the Government of the Republic of Cameroon (GRC)-insiders knows Mebara hated Inoni (his deputy) and never would have included him in such a sensitive dossier. Despite sensational headlines suggesting that Inoni will be caught up in the Albatross investigation, Chief Inoni was confident he will emerge unscathed. In an August 2008 meeting between former US ambassador Janet Garvey and President Biya, the President discussed Inoni’s alleged role in the Albatross affair. According to the ambassador, “admiring Ephraim Inoni's energy and performance as Prime Minister, Biya worried that Inoni might be weakened by allegations that Inoni had profited from the Albatross corruption scandal (ref c). Biya said he was convinced Inoni was not directly implicated, but worried that Inoni would be considered guilty by association, since the scandal happened while Inoni was the Deputy Secretary General at the Presidency. Biya said he had been disheartened to learn that the late Jerome Mendouga, Cameroon's Ambassador to the US, had been so deeply implicated in the scandal. And in yet another meeting between Ambassador Garvey and President Biya in February 2010, the President: “confirmed that more corruption-related arrests were coming under his anti-corruption initiative Operation "Epervier" (Sparrow hawk), although (contrary to rumor) he thought this would not likely include former Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni because the evidence against him was thin and he didn´t steal much money. Epervier had sent a useful anti-corruption signal which has had some effect, he thought; however, he wanted to rethink the approach of arresting officials and focus more on getting the stolen money back. He had more information about corruption committed by former Secretary General in the Presidency Jean-Marie Atangana Mebara.”
So why is Inoni in Kondengui? If Inoni was not directly involved in the ill-fated purchase of the Albatross, why is he in Kondengui? The beginnings of an answer may be found in a very detailed 51-page ordinance issued by Pascal Magnaguemabe in January 2010 in the case against Atangana Mebara, Jerome Mendouga and others (Affaire etat du Cameroun c/Atangana Mebara Jean Marie, Otele Essomba Hubert Patrick Marie, Mendouga Jerome et autres. Ordonnance de Disjonction de la Procedure No. 617/SOG/08/128). Inoni features in this ordinance as Mebara’s sidekick in financial transactions with a US-based company, Ansett Worldwide Aviation Services, which leased aircraft to CAMAIR. Another company accused of embezzlement in the ordinance is the London-based Aircraft Portfolio Management (APM), which was hired to audit the defunct national carrier. Inoni’s relationship with APM has been the subject of speculation and was allegedly questioned about this back in 2008 when he was still Prime Minister.
The APM Connection:When Mebara replaced Hamidou Marafa as Secretary-General at the Presidency in 2002, one of his priorities was to revive or at least salvage the botched presidential plane purchase. Even though GIA had received $31 million from Cameroon, it failed to deliver the brand new BBJ-2 aircraft, and made no effort to refund the money. On June 5, 2003, Mebara received a letter from Kevin Joseph Walls, Chief Executive Officer of Aircraft Portfolio Management (APM), advising him that GIA could claim the $31 million as arrears for aircraft it had leased CAMAIR. Mr. Walls suggested that the Secretary-General "protect" these funds by transferring them into APM’s escrow account in London. Mebara agreed. In his 2010 ordinance, the investigating judge concludes that this was an attempt by Mebara and Walls/APM to embezzle public funds; an attempt which failed only because GIA refused to transfer the funds to APM. Mebara and Walls are also accused of attempting to "rescind the contract signed between Camair and GIA International, without legitimate reason, and authorizing APM to recover the $31 million for hidden purposes. Cameroon Concord investigations revealed that Adolphe Moudiki received a document from the Minister of Justice signed by Fotso and GIA Project Director, Fernando Gomez-Mazuera indicating that the deal involved was the leasing of a Boeing Business Jet (BBJ 2) by Camair, not the purchase the government requested. Walls fumed at this ludicrous conclusion. In a 2011 interview with Pan-African Visions, a Cameroonian online news portal, Walls said “APM was never actually involved in the acquisition process of a Presidential aircraft. Mr. Atangana Mebara had been ordered by President Biya to clean up the mess that his predecessor had left behind. We did bring to the attention of the Minister of State that the Government of Cameroon had a large financial exposure to this company GIA and should they get into financial distress, the Government of Cameroon could lose their money. As the official aviation advisor to the Minister of Transport we felt it was our duty to recommend to the Minister of State that he try and protect the funds. That was our only involvement…. On hindsight, our advice was proven absolutely correct; GIA went bankrupt and Cameroon did indeed lose everything.”
It is unbelievable to think that the Chief Prosecutor Mr. Pascal Magnaguamabe stated that a letter from APM to the Minister of State advising him that there was an imminent danger that the funds sent to GIA could be lost and should be protected by transferring them into an escrow account with APM is "attempted embezzlement." You have to be a really sick twisted person to interpret a letter like this. Even an 11 year old child would recognize we were acting in the best interests of our client. APM was also accused of “attempted embezzlement” over and additional 1.5 billion Francs CFA, which SNH transferred to the company as payment to Ansett World Wide for debts owed by CAMAIR. According to the judge, this debt does not feature in CAMAIR’s books, and there was no proof that the funds were ever transferred to Ansett World Wide. Kevin Walls retorts: We have provided three letters from Ansett clearly acknowledging receipt of funds. It is very suspicious why no one has picked up the phone to Ansett in New York and independently confirmed this with them directly. As I said there is absolutely no evidence against Otele or Atangana Mebara. This is a clearly politically inspired show trial and is a deep travesty of justice.
Inoni’s ties with APM-Cameroon: It is worth noting that the London-based Aircraft Portfolio Management (APM-London) was the parent company of the Cameroon-based Asset Portfolio Management (APM-Cameroon), which was hired in January 2003 to conduct an audit of CAMAIR, and to negotiate a reduction in the cost of CAMAIR’s exorbitant leasing contracts. When APM-Cameroon was created, Inoni was listed as the company’s Board Chair. On this basis, he was accused of influence-trafficking to facilitate APM’s alleged financial impropriety. However, Inoni claimed the information that he was the APM Board Chair is incorrect. As he explained in a 2009 interview with Repères newspaper: “I had proposed, within the framework of the second audit (of CAMAIR), that payments to APM be made in Cameroon so that the Cameroonian treasury would benefit from the transaction. Recall that for the first audit, APM was paid in London. It is in this context that officials at Aircraft Portfolio Management (APM London) created Asset Portfolio Management (APM Cameroon). They then went ahead and made me chairman of the board, without consulting me. Perhaps to get into my good books. Once I became aware of this, I contacted the APM lawyer and informed him in no uncertain terms that I could not be the Board Chair. And my name was taken off. I have the minutes.” In 2010, the judge concluded that there were some “yet unknown persons” who were involved in APM’s attempt to embezzle state funds embezzlement. Did the judge finally unearth evidence that the former Prime was indeed one of those “unknown persons,” and that his ties with APM being much deeper than acknowledged and improper in nature?
Ansett Worldwide: Another claim contained in the 2010 ordinance was that during their time at the Presidency, Mebara and Inoni authorized and/or facilitated improper payments to Ansett Worldwide which had leasing contracts with CAMAIR. In the first case, Mebara, backed by Inoni requested that SNH wire 4 billion Francs CFA to Ansett Worldwide. And in a second transaction, Inoni, who was the Board Chair of Standard Chartered Bank Cameroon, prodded the bank into wiring FCFA 3.2 billion to Ansett Worldwide. According to the judge, since there was no evidence that this money was actually for services rendered, these two transactions were potentially acts of embezzlement warranting further investigation: If these two high ranking government officials at the Presidency of the Republic asked [Standard Chartered Bank and SNH] to transfer these funds to Ansett Worldwide without receipts and supporting documents establishing the authenticity and terms of repayment of the debt, then there was embezzlement of public funds carried out by Ansett Worldwide with the complicity of these two officials.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse: The decision to disburse the funds to GIA was the highest watermark of financial recklessness and stupidity and evidence of the ignorance and levity with which officials at the highest level of government handle their responsibilities. It probably never occurred to Meva’a or Moudiki that once disbursed; the government has no control on how the money will be used, let alone be able to recover the funds. But for the apparent conflict of interests involving Yves-Michel Fotso in all the transactions, the case could be made that the officials involved in the Albatross scandal were either the victims of a scam or they were just plain ignorant of international financial transactions and contractual obligations. Efforts by Cameroonian government officials to recover the $31 million have so far either been belated or plain deceitful and point to naivety and ignorance at its worst, especially by Fotso, who at the time was head of one of the major banks in the country. Having endorsed the payment by direct cash deposit to GIA International, Fotso’s sham recovery efforts further reinforced public perception that GIA was a shell company he used to defraud Cameroonians. In a confidential letter to President Biya, Fotso blamed everybody, including the September 11, 2001 attacks on the major landmarks of American military and economic power for the inability for GIA to supply the BBJ-2 even after receiving $31 million. Fotso told Biya that to exercise oversight over the transferred funds; he suggested that Assene Nkou, GIA rep for Central Africa be made a signatory to the GIA account in Bank of America. To which end, Fotso and Assene Nkou travelled to the USA at the end of August 2001 where they met in Medford, Oregon with Tom Miller, Bank of America (BoA) vice-president in the presence of GIA boss, Russell Meek. As the agents who ordered the disbursements to GIA, Fotso and Assene Nkou wanted to exercise control on the disbursement by GIA of the $29 million earmarked for the President’s plane. But Miller told Fotso that there was no legal or judicial framework for BoA to give them such powers since Fotso and Assene Nkou were neither GIA shareholders nor representatives from the Presidency. After insisting, BoA granted them a token concession that Fotso can have access to the GIA bank statements and his signature and name was reportedly appended to the GIA account. But this was subject to the authorization of the GIA Board of Directors, which never met to consider the proposal. Faced with the situation, Fotso insisted and obtained a debt recognition letter in which GIA International acknowledged owing Camair and the sum of $31 million. The letter was dated June 28, 2002 and officials from the legal department of the Presidency who travelled to the USA to verify the authenticity of the document described it as a fake!
All The President’s Men: How they bleed Cameroonians: Confronted with evidence of widespread corruption in their management of the $31 million disbursed by SNH, Fotso has focused more on damage control than on admitting responsibility for the wrongdoing, an examination by Cameroon Concord found. Chief Inoni because of tribalism was actually working with the wrong guys from his clan some of whom are now celebrating his demise in New York, London and deep within the presidency of the republic. However, the AGBAW-EBAI DEBATE thinks Inoni is a man more sinned against than sinning.