Cameroonian authorities freed a French businessman on Monday whose 17-year imprisonment on corruption charges became a source of tension between the two countries and drew appeals from President François Hollande and the UN human rights agency.
Michel Thierry Atangana (pictured), was released from jail in the capital, Yaoundé, on Monday.
“Atangana was freed this evening. He is at the French embassy,” his lawyer in Cameroon, Charles Tchoungang, told journalists outside the embassy gates.
Atangana’s family, lawyers and many political observers have maintained that his arrest and imprisonment were purely political.
A French national of Cameroonian origin, Atanga was accused in 1997 of embezzling public funds, put on trial without a lawyer and sentenced to 15 years in jail.
Atangana, now 49, had been working in Cameroon on a motorway development project when he was accused of embezzling 1.1 billion CFA francs (90 million euros) of public money alongside former health minister Titus Edzoa.
Before their imprisonment, Edzoa, 69, a former adviser to President Paul Biya, resigned from his cabinet position and announced he would challenge Biya in the 1997 election. Atangana was his campaign manager.
The two were due to complete their initial prison terms in 2012 but new charges were brought against them and both were found guilty and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment in October 2013. The decision prompted an outcry from France, the UN rights commission and international rights groups who denounced the trial as unfair and politically motivated.
Atangana and Edzoa have always denied the allegations against them.
The release of the two came after Biya signed a special decree last week to pardon a category of prisoners – those sentenced for more than ten years on charges of embezzling public funds – as part of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the central African nation, Atangana’s French lawyer, Eric Dupond-Moretti, explained to FRANCE 24.
In January 2013, French President François Hollande described Atangana’s detention as “unacceptable” and urged Biya to “push for a solution”.
Biya, 81, has ruled central Africa’s largest economy for three decades after coming to power in 1982 when his predecessor resigned.
He won a fresh seven-year term in 2011 polls that were criticised as unfair. Observers said the term would likely be his last due to his age.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
Date created : 2014-02-25