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Top Benin politician facing fresh drugs charges


Added 4th October 2018 04:26 PM

Ajavon was arrested in October 2016 after the discovery of about 18 kilograms of cocaine

Ajavon was arrested in October 2016 after the discovery of about 18 kilograms of cocaine

Benin tycoon and opposition politician Sebastien Ajavon is facing trial for alleged drug trafficking despite being cleared of any involvement in the same case two years ago, a court heard on Thursday.

The former presidential candidate was not in court in the administrative capital, Porto Novo, but was represented by 10 lawyers, who denounced the "blatant violation" of his rights.

Ajavon -- dubbed Benin's "Chicken King" after he made his fortune in livestock -- was called to attend court less than a week ago yet was not notified whether it was as a witness or a defendant, according to court documents seen by AFP.

His lawyers discovered on Thursday that their client and three others were accused of "high-risk international drug trafficking", which carries a prison term of 10-20 years.

"How can you summon the same people for the same events when they have already been tried and acquitted?" his Paris-based lawyer, Marc Bensimhon, asked after the hearing.

"I can only imagine that Beninese politics dictates Beninese justice," he told reporters.

Ajavon was arrested in October 2016 after the discovery of about 18 kilograms (40 pounds) of cocaine with an estimated street value of nine billion CFA francs ($15.7 million, 13.7 million euros) in a container heading to one of his businesses.

He was released several months later for lack of evidence and having been given "the benefit of the doubt".

He believed the decision to be final as there was no appeal but the proceedings were begun against him at a new court that hears cases of economic crime, drug trafficking and terrorism in late August.

It can hear cases at both first instance and as a last resort.

After 20 minutes of legal argument, the court president decided to adjourn the hearing until October 18, and asked all defendants to attend.

Ajavon came third in the 2016 presidential election behind the former prime minister Lionel Zinsou and the eventual winner, Patrice Talon.

He also backed Talon -- who made his money in cotton and running Cotonou's port -- in the second round against Zinsou. But relations have soured between the two men since then.

In May this year, he took Talon's government to an African Union court in Arusha, Tanzania, to demand nearly $990 million in damages after a string of arrests and prosecutions.

They included the suspension for several months of two media organisations belonging to him and more recently a backdated tax bill of more than $300 million.

In March, Ajavon launched his own political party and has made known he wants to stand at the next election that is expected in 2020.

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