WIKILEAKS-Cameroon Corruption - Albatross Affair - 4-6-2008

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Cameroon Corruption - Albatross Affair Wikileaks Document
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  Reference idaka Wikileaks id #156754 ? SubjectCameroon Corruption: Albatross Affair Embroils Pm, Other MinistersOriginEmbassy Yaounde (Cameroon)  Cable timeWed, 4 Jun 2008 15:02 UTCClassificationCONFIDENTIALSourcehttp://wikileaks.org/cable/2008/06/08YAOUNDE546.htmlReferences08YAOUNDE237Referenced by08YAOUNDE800,08YAOUNDE913,09YAOUNDE246,09YAOUNDE367  History ã Time unknown : Original unredacted version, leaked to Wikileaks   ã Thu, 1 Sep 2011 23:24: Original unredacted version published, with HTMLgoodies VZCZCXYZ0000 PP RUEHWEB DE RUEHYD #0546/01 1561502 ZNY CCCCC ZZH P 041502ZJUN 08 FM AMEMBASSY YAOUNDE TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8959 INFORUEHUJA/AMEMBASSY ABUJA PRIORITY 1401 RUEHSW/AMEMBASSY BERN PRIORITY0044 RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1739 RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARISPRIORITY 2067 RUEHSA/AMEMBASSY PRETORIA PRIORITY 0835 RUEAUSA/DEPT OF HHSWASHDC PRIORITY RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY RHMFISS/DEPTOF HOMELAND SECURITY IA WASHDC PRIORITY RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURYWASHDC PRIORITY RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHDC PRIORITYHide header C O N F I D E N T I A L YAOUNDE 000546SIPDISSTATE ALSO FOR AF/C, INL/CPRETORIA FOR DHSABUJA FOR LEGATTTREASURY FOR FINCENTREASURY ALSO FOR JILL BEZEK TREASURY FOR FRANCOIS BOYEE.O. 12958: DECL: 05/27/2018TAGS: CM [Cameroon], EAIR  [Civil Aviation], ECON [Economic Conditions], EFIN [Financial and Monetary Affairs], KCOR  [Corruption and Anti-Corruption],PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs],EINV [Foreign Investments] SUBJECT: CAMEROON CORRUPTION: ALBATROSS AFFAIR EMBROILS PM, OTHER MINISTERSREF: A.YAOUNDE 237B. 03 YAOUNDE 1425 C. 99 YAOUNDE 1599Classified By: Poloff Tad Brown for Reasons 1.4 b and d.    ¶1.(C) Cameroonian media and gossip circuits have been abuzz in recent weeks with speculation thatdozens of high-level officials and prominent Cameroonians, including Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni,will be arrested for their role in what looks to become the biggest corruption scandal in Cameroon'shistory. The Albatross Affair centers around a series of embezzlement-laden shadowy deals that costCameroon's national airline, CAMAIR, upwards of $37 million to purchase an ageing Boeing 767 in2004 to use as Paul Biya's presidential plane and through aircraft leases. Inoni insists he proved hisinnocence to Biya, but he is increasingly perceived as doomed to be dismissed in an imminent cabinetshuffle. This case may prove especially interesting to American law enforcement agencies asdocuments available to Post clearly show that American citizens and American companies wereinvolved in the corrupt deal. End summary. There is More Than One Scandal==============================  ¶2.(SBU) Although public discussion focuses the Albatross Affair, the Government of Cameroon(GRC) is investigating a series of suspicious deals that were motivated by President Biya'sdetermination to upgrade former President Ahidjo's 1978 aircraft (nicknamed the Pelican ) to a newer  presidential aircraft. The Albatross was the nickname given to an ageing Boeing 767 that Biya flewonce in 2004 before mechanical failures on Biya's first trip caused him to abandon it. GRC officials areinvestigating the srcin of the Albatross deal (which was portrayed by many as an attempt toassassinate Biya in a plane crash) as well as the disappearance of about $31 million paid to a U.S.company for the purchase of a new Boeing business jet and a series of dubious leasing deals enteredinto by CAMAIR executives. GIA International ================= ¶3.(C) As early as 1999, then-Secretary General at the Presidency (and current Minister of TerritorialAdministration, MINAT) Hamidou Yaya Marafa met with Boeing officials to discuss the purchase of anew 737 Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) for President Biya and a 767 for CAMAIR. In that meeting,attended by Embassy officials (ref c), the Boeing official told Marafa that financing for the 737-BBJwould be difficult to obtain and that international financial institutions would not look kindly upon aspecific GRC budget line for a presidential aircraft. Since Cameroon was supposed to be abiding by anIMF program for debt relief, the Presidency determined it would be unseemly to spend tens of millionsof dollars outright for a presidential aircraft. Instead, according to press reports, Embassy contacts anddocuments obtained by Post in recent weeks, Biya approved the transfer of about $29 million from theaccounts of the National Hydrocarbons Company (SNH) through the Ministry of Finance to CAMAIR (in transactions disguised as the GRC repaying debts to CAMAIR), which in August 2001 transferredthe funds to the Bank of America accounts of Oregon-based GIA International. Documents provided bya GRC source in late May indicate that GIA International had acted as an intermediary with Boeing toobtain the 737-BBJ. An additional $2 million was transferred to the Commercial Bank of Cameroon(CBC), owned by the family of then-CAMAIR General Manager Yves Michel Fotso, reportedly torepay a $2 million advance that CBC had paid to GIA International. ¶4.(U) According to open source information, when Marafa was transferred to MINAT in August 2002and replaced at the Presidency by Jean Marie Atangana Mebara, the latter convinced Biya to abandonthe plan for a new plane and instead purchase a cheaper, second-hand aircraft (the Albatross ). Post possesses no information indicating how much money was actually transferred from GIA to Boeing, but Cameroonian press reports indicate that Boeing returned whatever funds it had received to GIA,minus a penalty fee as specified in the contract. GIA was subsequently declared bankrupt after IndianAirlines sued them in New York court for fraud. In his sworn statement in that case (quoted in pressreports, but not obtained by Post), GIA President Russell Meek testifies in some detail about thehandling of the GRC's funds. Post has not yet been contacted by Boeing regarding this issue and is notaware of any allegations that Boeing engaged in any inappropriate behavior. The Albatross Affair   ==================== ¶5.(C) Then-Secretary General Mebara continued ahead with his own plans to purchase a second-handaircraft for Biya. Fotso was replaced at the CAMAIR helm by Thomas Dakayi Kamga, who sought tolease two Boeing aircraft. According to copies of GRC documents obtained by Post in recent weeks,SNH General Manager Adolphe Moudiki, in May 2003, transferred $5 million from SNH accounts at aFrench bank (the Societe Generale La Defense Enterprises) to Boeing's account with JP Morgan Chase(ATTN: Maria Chavez). Having been inspected and certified by Cameroonian officials, the aircraft wasused to ferry Paul Biya and his family from Douala to Geneva in 2004. The plane reportedlyexperienced technical problems mid-flight, leaving the first family shaken, Biya enraged, and observersspeculating that someone had wanted to murder Biya. Although Post is unaware of any substantiationof this conspiracy theory, Biya never flew in the Albatross again. CAMAIR's Contracts================== ¶6.(C) We believe GRC officials are also investigating leases that CAMAIR undertook under theleadership of then-CAMAIR General Manager Yves Michel Fotso, Chairman of the Commercial Bank of Cameroon and son of Cameroonian billionaire Victor Fotso, and Thomas Dakayi Kamga, hisreplacement. According to GRC sources, including Minister of Finance Essimi Menye (who is nowoverseeing the liquidation of CAMAIR), CAMAIR's lease arrangements were highly unfavorable toCAMAIR, and media reports have speculated that Fotso surreptiously leased CAMAIR planes fromcompanies that he owned. The French (and Swiss) Connection================================= ¶7.(C) Swiss judicial authorities have reportedly been involved in questioning Fotso and other Cameroonians after filing a formal Letters Rogatory alleging that French national Francois de Seroux-Fouquet (residing in Little Rock, Arkansas) engaged in money laundering, criminal activity and other crimes while doing business with CAMAIR. Press reports indicate that Seroux-Fouquet conspired withFotso to structure CAMAIR's airplane leases--at exorbitant prices--through companies the twocontrolled. From press and GRC contacts, Post understands that CAMAIR has, at various times,undertaken leases with companies including GIA International, Societe General Avipro Finance Ltd.,Aircraft Portfolio Management, and Ansett Worldwide Air Services. Who Is Implicated================= ¶8.(C) The following individuals feature prominently in the Albatross affair: -- Ephraim Inoni, then-Assistant Secretary General at the Presidency; currently Prime Minister. Inoni told the Ambassador thathe has provided convincing evidence to Biya that he was not involved in the Albatross shenanigans. AnInoni family member told Poloff May 29 that GRC-insiders know Mebara hated Inoni (his deputy) andnever would have included him in such a sensitive dossier. Despite sensational headlines suggestingthat Inoni will be caught up in the Albatross investigation, Inoni seems confident he will emergeunscathed and Post is not aware of any credible information indicating Inoni's involvement. -- AdolpheMoudiki, General Manager of National Oil Company (SNH). Moudiki would have ordered the transfer of payments from SNH accounts. According to press reports and a GRC contact, the transfersreportedly attracted the attention of US financial authorities, who held up the transfers until Moudikiassured them they were legitimate. -- Michel Meva'a Eboutou, former Minister of Finance. Eboutouhad authority over the SNH transfer to CAMAIR and other financial transfers. -- Yves Michel Fotso,former Director of CAMAIR. Fotso was engaged in negotiations for the 737-BBJ, the purchase of theAlbatross, and the negotiations of CAMAIR's leases. -- Edgard Alain Mebe Ngo'o, then-Chief of Staff at the Presidency, currently the General Delegate for National Security (DGSN, or head of the NationalPolice). Mebe Ngo'o would have been involved in overseeing the plans for the new aircraft and  allegedly benefited from kickbacks obtained from over-billing the Presidency for use of CAMAIR assets. -- Jerome Mendouga, former Cameroonian Ambassador to the United States. As the GRC'scontact with the American entities, Mendouga was the conduit for some payments within the US,according to information provided by USG sources. -- Marafa Hamidou Yaya, then-Secretary Generalat the Presidency and concurrently Chairman of the SNH Board, currently Minister of State for Territorial Administration. Marafa was personally engaged in initial discussions with Boeing starting in1999 and would have overseen the transfer of funds from SNH. -- Russell Meek, AMCIT President of GIA International, registered in Grants Pass, Oregon; mentioned in media reports and in copies of GRCdocuments obtained by Post. -- Fernando Gomez Mazuera, AMCIT (COB: Colombia) Vice President of GIA International; mentioned in media reports and in copies of GRC documents obtained by Post. --Kevin Walls, British citizen, Director of Aircraft Portfolio Management (APM), company registered inBritish Virgin Islands that is allegedly involved in some of CAMAIR's suspect leasing arrangements;mentioned in media reports. -- Jean-Marie Assene Nkou, President of National Airways of Cameroon,former Member of Parliament. Assene Nkou was the link between GIA and Fotso (through Ms. Gwett,now with Fotso's Cameroonian company Air Leasing); Assene Nkou allegedly received 500 millionCFA. Comment ======= ¶9.(C) The GRC's zealous pursuit of these files is no doubt colored by politics. Many of thoseimplicated are also believed to be part of the Upstarts who we believe seek to replace Biya on their own terms (ref a) and who the Biya regime wishes to weaken. The recent renewed press coverage of the Albatross story comes in the wake of a series of apparently unrelated corruption-related arrests,including the former Ministers of Finance and Health, the General E Manager of the CameroonShipyard, and others implicated in Operation Sparrowhawk. As Albratoss plays out, it could lead tothe arrest of a series of powerful Cameroonians, including Marafa, Moudiki, Fotso and others, and mayalso direct more attention to the American element of these corrupt deals. End comment. US LawEnforcement Interest =========================== ¶10.(C) Although we have not been officially contacted about Albatross, media reports suggest GRCinvestigators will begin researching the U.S. angle to this story in the coming weeks. U.S. lawenforcement officials considering the American component of these scandals may be interested toobtain some of the detailed banking information (including account names and numbers, transfer amounts and dates) that Post has obtained from press and other sources. Points of contact are DeputyPol-Econ Chief Clinton Brown (BrownCS@state.gov) and Assistant Regional Security Officer MiguelEversley (EversleyMA@state.gov). GARVEY
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