Trio charged over plot to poison Yayi

2012-10-24 08:57

Cotonou - Benin has charged President Thomas Boni Yayi's doctor, niece and an ex-minister over an alleged plot to poison him, the public prosecutor said Tuesday, in a case that has rocked the small west African nation.

The charges came after the authorities announced the arrests of the three on Monday and described the alleged plot, including a meeting in a Brussels hotel room and a plan to replace Yayi's anti-pain medicine with poison.

Police say there were also claims of a plan for two of the suspects - Yayi's niece and his personal doctor - to be assassinated after the plot was carried out in order to conceal what happened.

Prosecutors say the niece Zouberath Kora-Seke and the doctor Ibrahim Mama Cisse were promised one billion CFA francs ($2m) to carry out the plot, with former commerce minister Moudjaidou Soumanou acting as an intermediary.

The 60-year-old Yayi is also the current chairperson of the African Union.

"They are formally charged with criminal conspiracy and attempted murder," public prosecutor Justin Gbenameto told AFP, adding they were charged on Monday following their arrests Sunday.

The three are being held in prison in the economic capital Cotonou, Gbenameto said.

A lawyer for the former minister and Yayi's doctor, Joseph Djogbenou, declined to comment when contacted by AFP. A lawyer for Yayi's niece could not immediately be reached for comment.

Gbenameto said the plot did not succeed, and a source in the presidency said Yayi appeared in good health.

Arrest warrant

According to Gbenameto, the instigator of the plot was alleged to be Benin businessman Patrice Talon, a former Yayi ally.

Talon is currently out of the country, but Gbenameto told AFP that the authorities intended to issue an arrest warrant for him.

The alleged plot was said to have involved a discussion on 17 October, when Talon is accused of meeting Yayi's niece in his hotel room to persuade her to go along with the plan.

He allegedly later met with the doctor, though police said the two had also previously spoken in New York.

Yayi and other African leaders were in Brussels at the time for a European development conference.

Upon their return to Cotonou on 19 October, according to Gbenameto, Soumanou supplied the alleged poison pills to the doctor.

Police said the plan was to kill the president overnight on 20-21October.

Cotonou police superintendent Louis Philippe Houndegnon told reporters there were even suggestions that poison would be spread in the president's residence afterward to ensure he was dead and asphyxiate any potential witnesses.

He said there were also claims that the president's niece and doctor would be assassinated afterwards to cover up the crime.

According to the prosecutor, word of the plan leaked out when Yayi's niece spoke of it to others, who then warned the president.

Lucrative contracts

The motive for the alleged plot has not officially been made clear, but an aide to the president said on condition of anonymity that it may have involved lucrative contracts.

The aide said it may have been linked to a decision to end a monopoly for a company supplying materials for the cotton industry as well as a major port contract.

Soumanou is currently head of cotton company SODECO.

Both the port and cotton industries in the nation of some nine million people are major sectors of the economy.

The allegations have raised some suspicions in Benin over whether they were intended to smear the president's enemies.

"It must be noted that Talon was a financier for Boni Yayi's accession to the highest office in 2006 and 2011," said Wilfried Leandre Houngbedji, columnist for state-owned La Nation.

"The plot theory can cut both ways since the two former friends are now at odds, one reproaching the other for profiting too much from the state and the other reproaching the person he supported for his 'ingratitude.'"

Yayi is an economist who first took office in 2006 and won re-election last year with 53% of the vote.