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I.Coast cocoa bosses get 20 yrs for embezzlement

07 november 2013, 13:22
An Abidjan court on Wednesday sentenced 14 former bosses of Ivory Coast's cocoa sector -- the world's number one producer -- to 20 years in prison in a major embezzlement case, AFP reports.

Despite the conviction, the court did not order their detention, prompting charges that the case involving hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) was politically motivated.

Emmanuel Yao, the lawyer representing one of the 14, said the fact that it remains unclear when they would begin serving their sentence "shows simply that justice is uneasy" and that "the trial is political".

"I have never seen anything like that in 20 years of practice," added the lawyer.

A source close to the case noted that "with the absence of a detention mandate and upcoming appeals, the convicts have no risk of going to prison".

"There is so much innuendo or political reasons behind this case," noted the source.

The embezzlement probe was opened in October 2007 at the request of former president Laurent Gbagbo and led to the arrest of almost all of the top managers in the sector, including those close to the former head of state.

Some 540 billion francs CFA (824 million euros) is estimated to have been siphoned off between 2002 and 2008, according to Luc Adje, another defence lawyer.

The accused were found to have embezzled funds during that period to the detriment of farmers, a source close to the case said.

Five of the 14 have also been sentenced to pay damages and interests reaching 67 billion francs CFA (over 100 million euros), according to the court ruling.

Another 13 people were acquitted in the case.

Ivory Coast has about 35 percent of the world cocoa market, and cocoa and coffee account for 40 percent of its export revenue and 20 percent of its gross national product.

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