Benin's 'chicken king' to be no-show at drugs trial: lawyer

2018-10-17 20:33
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Gavel (iStock)

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Benin tycoon and opposition politician Sebastien Ajavon will not be in court on Thursday to face drugs charges, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

The former presidential candidate - dubbed Benin's "chicken king" because he made his fortune in livestock - has been summoned to appear at a hearing in Porto-Novo on Thursday.

But one of his lawyers, Eric Dupond-Moretti, said his client had "decided, based on the recommendations of legal counsel, not to appear in person at this hearing, given the serious irregularities in the process and the absurd and false accusation against him.

"On the other hand, he authorises his lawyers, in accordance with the rule of law, to condemn the attack on his rights and the abuse of fair process that has already sullied the entire procedure."

Ajavon was "the victim of political manoeuvring" and would take "any necessary judicial or political action to guarantee the respect of his rights and his participation in the democratic process", Dupond-Moretti added.

Ajavon is facing charges of "high-risk international drug trafficking", which carries a prison term of 10 to 20 years, even though he was previously acquitted of any involvement.

That followed the discovery in 2016 of some 18kg of cocaine with an estimated street value of nine billion CFA francs ($15.7m) in a container heading to one of his businesses.

Earlier this month, judges refused a defence application for him to be tried in his absence.

The businessman ran for Benin's presidency in 2016 but came third behind fellow tycoon Patrice Talon and the then-prime minister Lionel Zinsou.

He then switched support to Talon, which helped him win the second round run-off against Zinsou. But relations between the two men have since soured.

Ajavon, who in March launched his own political party with a view to another run for president in 2021, has claimed he has been specifically targeted by arrests and prosecutions.

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