Ivory Coast presidential candidate Soro hit with 20-year jail term

Guillaume Soro, the former rebel chief candidate for the presidency of Côte d’Ivoire, was sentenced in absentia Tuesday for embezzlement and sentenced to 20 years in prison for embezzlement. The former prime minister, who is in exile in France, has denied the accusations claiming that they were motivated by political reasons.

The verdict, announced after a trial in Côte d’Ivoire that lasted only a few hours and boycotted by Soro’s lawyers, should exclude Soro from the October elections, when President Alassane Ouattara must withdraw.

Prosecutors issued an arrest warrant against Soro in December for allegedly plotting a coup against the government of his former ally Ouattara and stealing public funds.

Soro, who lived in Europe, hijacked his plane in the air instead of returning home in December in Côte d’Ivoire – where he planned to launch his campaign – when it became clear that the Ivorian authorities had issued an arrest warrant against him.

Soro denied the accusations which, according to him, are aimed at preventing him from defying Ouattara’s favorite successor, Prime Minister Amadou Gon Coulibaly, during the elections.

In an interview with a French weekly in December, Soro promised to lead the “resistance” from abroad “like de Gaulle”, referring to the French leader of resistance in wartime.

“Thunderbolt in the sky of Ivorian corruption”

The Abidjan court fined him nearly seven million euros ($ 7.6 million), ordered his home in Abidjan to be confiscated, and excluded him from civic service for five years.

The court issued a new arrest warrant against him, effectively preventing him from participating in the elections, and ordered him to pay three million euros in damages to the state.

Soro helped Ouattara take power in 2010 amid political violence that claimed the lives of 3,000 people before becoming Prime Minister and then Speaker of the Parliament.

After falling out with Ouattara, he launched an unsuccessful bid to become president last year.

Government lawyer Ben Meite Abdoulaye rejected suggestions that the verdict was political, calling it “love at first sight in the skies of Ivorian corruption”.

“This decision marks the start of a new era in Côte d’Ivoire. We must track corruption wherever it is found,” he said.

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights recently ordered Côte d’Ivoire to suspend an arrest warrant against Soro, who had brought his case before a Tanzania-based court last month.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)