Biya’s clemency decision on Minister Basile Atangana Kouna: An indication that crime pays 0

It was late on Friday, July 29, 2022 and Biktusi music was pulsating from the residence of a multimillion-FCFA home in Yaoundé owned by a former cabinet minister who orchestrated one of the biggest frauds in Cameroon history.

After four years in the Kondengui Maximum Security Prison in Yaoundé, the former Minister of Water and Energy, Basile Atangana Kouna is now a free man.

Basile Kouna’s clemency decision went very fast. The Special Criminal Court ordered his release late on Friday, July 29, 2022 and before it was 9 pm that same Friday, Basile Atangana Kouna was already enjoying life in the nation’s capital.

Annie Noelle Bahounoui Batende, president of the collegiality of judges and also president of the Special Criminal Court pronounced the decision following the restitution of the corpus delicti to the public treasury, an amount of 1.265 billion FCFA.

Interestingly, there was a correspondence from the Minister-Secretary General at the Presidency of the Republic, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh to the Minister of Justice, Keeper of the Seals, Laurent Esso, informing him that President Paul Biya has decided to stop the prosecution of Basile Atangana Kouna.

On the same day after being granted clemency by President Biya and released after serving four years at the Kondengui Prison, Minister Basile Atangana Kouna was under a biktusi ball celebrating with his wife, family and supporters from his Beti Ewondo tribal extraction.

Not far away from Yaoundé precisely in Paris, France, Chief Inoni Ephraim former Prime Minister and Head of Government, who had been convicted in a separate scheme to siphon off millions of dollars in fraudulent Albatross payments, was also at a private Cameroon government holiday home instead of in the Kondengui Maximum Security prison. Thanks to several commutations by President Biya, CPDM criminals are being relieved of any “remaining obligation.”

This is not the outcome that judges at the Special Criminal Court expected when they and other top state prosecutors and police investigators set out to expose what these cabinet ministers have done to the state of Cameroon.

After four years of painstaking work including millions of FCFA spent to arrest Minister Kouna Atangana in Nigeria — participants in a type of fraud that costs the Cameroonian taxpayer several millions of FCFA — had been wiped away by the stroke of a Biya-Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh pen.

The so-called presidential rationale did not hold much weight with those who had sought to hold Minister Basile Kouna accountable. Correspondingly, no anger has been elicited among those who spent years pursuing the complex prosecution against the Minister.

President Biya’s tribal clemency decision remains an incredible kick in the teeth to the judges and prosecutors at the Special Criminal Court who work every day under very difficult circumstances to achieve justice and some restitution to the Cameroonian taxpayer from the billions that has literally been stolen.

This frustration is shared by many deep inside the regime including some prominent magistrates who spent two years working on the case.  A senior aide to Minister Laurent Esso has been quoted as saying that the Biya clemency decision is disheartening and demoralizing.

In 2013, President Biya commuted a former Minister of Basic Education; Haman Adama after four years of pre-trial detention for misappropriation of public funds. Like Basile Atangana Kouna, Haman Adama we are told also repaid the embezzled funds.  But those who reportedly considered Minister Haman Adama case to be the most important conviction were outraged at what Mr. Biya did.

Basile Kouna’s presidential pardon so to speak is an insult and slap in the face to Cameroonians. Everyone in the political bureau of the ruling CPDM remains baffled at why Mr. Biya acted in this case. The Head of State supports men and women with ill gotten wealth, supports  rich and well-connected people — really bad people by giving them special treatment when decent people are languishing in the jails.

The festivities at Minister Kouna’s home soon after his release surprised everyone in Yaoundé. But a neighbour contacted by this reporter opined that crime pays in Biya’s Cameroon.

By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai