TOCC’S Human Interest Correspondent, Gail Jefferson, provides a welcome break from TOCC’s legalistic style with her humorous, compelling rendition of the infamous BBJ-2 Affair!
The verdict is in. On Saturday, September 22, 2012 in the wee hours of the morning, all of the defendants of The People of Cameroon v. Marafa Hamidou Yaya, Yves Michel Fotso, et al. were found guilty. Marafa, Fotso, and Jean-Marie Assene Nkou were sentenced to 25 years hard labor; Jean-Marie Chapuis and Genevieve Sandjon were sentenced to 15 years; and Julienne Nkou was sentenced to 10. Marafa, Fotso, and Nkou must jointly pay 21 billion Francs CFA ($42 million) in damages and interest to the state and 1 billion Francs CFA ($2 million) in court costs. Wow! I don’t know about you, but I did not see that coming.
I have tried to follow this case since it first started in May. I have to admit that there have been times when I had a hard time trying to figure out “Who’s on First”, and I know that I cannot be alone. OK, a show of hands of how many can confidently say they understand what the case of The People of Cameroon v Marafa, Fotso, et al. is really about. Uh huh…that’s what I thought.
The manner in which I ask this is not to make light of the situation, because certainly 25 years of hard labor and $42 million dollars is nothing to laugh about. I believe that this case is so convoluted, outrageous, and extraordinarily bizarre, it’s no wonder that the Cameroonian people can’t make heads or tails of it. I think that it could most certainly be a comedy worthy of Shakespeare. I believe that if this case were really understood, there would be more outrage and protest among the Cameroonian people. With 48% percent of the Cameroonian population unemployed and 48% living below the international poverty threshold with a GDP of $2,300, the little money that they do have is being wasted on the personal excesses of a President with expensive tastes.
So, to help all of us make some sense of how the case of The People of Cameroon v. Marafa, Fotso, et al. came about and what a “parody of a judicial process” the whole trial was, I have put together my version of CliffsNotes (you remember CliffsNotes – right?) or for the purposes of this article – GailsNotes. Hopefully, my synopsis and my attempt at humor to highlight some of the ridiculousness of the events that took place might generate a little more outrage, a call to action, and maybe a protest rally or two.
List of Characters
Boeing Business Jet Aircraft (BBJ-2): Yes, I know…it seems a little silly to list a jet plane as a character, but the jet is at the heart of the story. Without it there would be no need to read GailsNotes.
Paul Biya aka the Government: President of the Republic of Cameroon in central Africa
Marafa Hamidou Yaya: former Senior Minister and Secretary-General at the Presidency of the Republic of Cameroon
Yves Michel Fotso: Founder/President of Commercial Bank of Cameroon and onetime Administrator Director General of Cameroon Airlines (CAMAIR)
Jean-Marie Assene Nkou: Director General of National Airways Cameroon (a private airline company)
Michel Meva’a M’Eboutou: Minister of Economy and Finance
Jean Marie Atangana Mebara: Replaced Marafa Hamidou Yaya as Secretary-General at the Presidency of the Republic of Cameroon
A Not So “Brief” Synopsis:
Cameroon was placed under a Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund sometime during 1987 to 2000. This was done to help “restore internal and external macroeconomic balances with the view to achieving sustainable and equitable growth.” The Cameroonian government received a Structural Adjustment Loan for $150 million, but it came with conditions and limitations. In accepting the Structural Adjustment Loan, “Cameroon agreed to limit its capital expenditures and otherwise strive to revive the country’s economy, clear government arrears, financially contribute to restructuring public enterprises and banks, and increase public investment”. It was NOT to be used for anything else (let alone a private jet). Sometime in the year 2000, President Paul Biya decided that he no longer wanted to travel in an outdated Pelican jet left over from the presidency of the late Ahmadou Ahidijo. Now, I don’t know why not, seems to me that flying in an old private jet is still a heck of lot nicer than flying commercial but…sigh…I digress.
OK, so, knowing that the money loaned to Cameroon by the World Bank was not to be spent on anything other than economic growth or social reforms in Cameroon, President Biya decided to buy a brand spanking new private jet anyway.
Yves Michel Fotso, the Administrator Director of Cameroon Airlines (CAMAIR) at the time, was directed by the Government to contact an American company, GIA International in Oregon, about the purchase of a plane. GIA already had a working relationship with CAMAIR from previous business dealings and agreed to act as an intermediary between the Cameroonian government, CAMAIR the national airline of Cameroon, and the Boeing Corporation. You see, the purchase of the jet had to be done secretly (naturally) and in such a convoluted way to avoid the World Bank finding out about the purchase. The decision was made to use CAMAIR as a front to cover the purchase.
In August 2001, GIA finds a plane and submits a proposal to the Cameroonian government for a Boeing Business Jet Aircraft 2 coming in at the low, low price of $65 million dollars. Now to be fair, $49 million of that money was for a “green” aircraft and only $16 million was to be used for interior design because I mean, seriously, if you’re going to misappropriate government money, you at least want to do it wisely – right?
Now here’s where it starts to get bizarre (as if it weren’t already). GIA found a plane for $31 million but needed a $2 million deposit to secure it within a 72 hour time frame. The Government instructed Michel Meva’a M’Eboutou, the Minister of Economy and Finance, to tell Fotso to transfer money to CAMAIR’s bank account, then he would transfer the money from that account to GIA’s bank account in the United States. At the same time, M’Eboutou was told to transfer an additional $29 million to GIA’s account. But then the unthinkable happens. Al Qaeda attacks the United States on September 11, 2001, and somehow GIA International gets mistaken for the terrorist organization Groupe Islamique Armée, and their accounts are frozen, and with it the $31 million that had been transferred into them. Are you still with me? Ok, so access to the money has been cut off, the 72 hour time frame has expired, and the plane is then sold to another customer. But wait! Boeing has another plane. Whew…what a relief! I would hate to think that President Biya would have been stuck having to fly around in that Pelican jet. So, the plane is “received” by government officials, after President and Mrs. Biya had made suggestions and recommendations on colors and interior designing. All is well again.
Marafa is replaced as Secretary-General at the Presidency of the Republic by Jean Marie Atangana Mebara who immediately terminates the contract between GIA and CAMAIR and cancels the order for the replacement jet. CAMAIR and GIA are removed from the middle, and the Government begins negotiations with Boeing directly. The Government then decides that it no longer wants the Boeing Business Jet Aircraft 2 (because it was soooo 2001), it would much rather have a larger Boeing 767-200. While waiting to take delivery of the new jet, Mebara and his associates lease a third aircraft for Biya’s use which in its inaugural flight from Douala to Paris with the President and First Family aboard almost crashed prompting the local press to dub it the ALBATROSS or flying coffin! In the meantime, drum roll please…GIA International declares Chapter 7. I must pause here and laugh…SERIOUSLY? Bankruptcy! OK, I’m sorry… so why do we care that GIA declared bankruptcy? We know that they were taken out of the equation when Mebara became Secretary-General. We care because…wait for it…if they declared bankruptcy then…WHERE IS THE MONEY?!
Did you notice, that in all of the money being transferred to this account and then to that account, there was never any mention of money being refunded back? This, readers, is what you call a scam -- plain and simple. The Cameroonian government attempted to run a con using money that was earmarked for social and economic reform and then was out conned by someone else. How embarrassing!
Well, now it’s time to save face. $31 million has disappeared and that’s got to be explained somehow. So, what does the government do? Why, they lay blame elsewhere. The Government of Cameroon alleged that Marafa, Fotso and others conspired to embezzle the $31 million that the country paid GIA International for the Boeing Business Jet Aircraft 2 and that GIA International was a Fotso-run company! This is how the case of The People of Cameroon v. Marafa Hamidou Yaya, Yves Michel Fotso, et al. came to be.
Dear readers, once you get past the myriad of overwhelming details, the subterfuge, the financial mismanagement and the incompetence, this is a failed attempt by President Paul Biya to use money that was not his to use to satisfy his need for excessive luxuries. His attempt to buy a plane with misappropriated funds was a failure of colossal proportions and, rather than admit fault, he lays the blame at someone else’s feet. This “government is ready to place itself beyond the pale of civilized conduct expected of a sovereign member of the community of nations” Please do not let the Government (i.e. Paul Biya) get away without facing some lawful consequences. Do not let the Government make a mockery of the legal system and use others to pay for its crimes.