Former judge in the Freedoms and Detention Chamber of the Court for the Suppression of Economic Crimes and Terrorism (CRIET) in Benin, magistrate Essowé Batamoussi resigned from his post last April. Exiled, the ex-judge is now trying to alert international opinion to the lack of independence of the Beninese judiciary. Interview.
Le Journal de l'Afrique: Last April, you resigned from CRIET. For what reasons ?
Essowé Batamoussi: I actually resigned from the CRIET on April 1 for two fundamental reasons, which are moreover linked: the lack of independence of this court and the permanent interference of the Keeper of the Seals, Minister of Justice, in cases involving politicians or economic operators.
You speak in particular of Reckya Madougou. You say, moreover, about her, that justice had “nothing against her” and that her file was empty. That is to say ?
Just read the folder and you will see that it is indeed empty. The preliminary investigation report and all the other acts that followed show that she was exonerated by Colonel Touré, the main accused of terrorist acts who declared that he had never been in contact or near or far with Reckya Madougou. As for Georges Sacca, he affirmed that the money he had received was intended to organize the cells of the Les Démocrates party in Parakou. This file, which is only a pure imagination of the power in place, failed to demonstrate any involvement of Reckya Madougou.
"There are two CRIET"
Can you explain to us how the Madougou and Aïvo affairs took place within CRIET, when you were still in office?
I have no knowledge of the Aïvo file. This file had previously been directed in flagrante delicto. It was therefore the special prosecutor of CRIET who had signed his arrest warrant. I learned about the course of the trial.
The Madougou and Aïvo files look like two drops of water. They are both political opponents. Their candidacies for the April 2021 presidential election were rejected. They then held a political meeting in Porto-Novo. Madame Madougou was apprehended that day and Aïvo a few days later. Each case has three defendants. There are insufficient charges in both cases. No evidence could be filed to prove their guilt. They were sentenced because the government demanded it.
You explained that “CRIET judges are under orders and there is interference from the executive in cases involving political figures”. How does this manifest?
I often like to say that there are two CRIETs. The first is in the Chancellery. It is supervised by the Keeper of the Seals. It is in this high place that the decisions to continue or to lift the proceedings are taken (as in the Bertin Coovi and Pascal Tawes cases), the form and substance of the preliminary investigation reports, the content of the education and judgment. The second, the virtual or extra CRIET, which has its premises in Porto-Novo, is just a simple sounding board. I am going to be serious in saying that there are no magistrates over there but rather simple enforcement agents whose task is to format and sign the decisions that have been taken at the chancellery in order to confer judicial form and substance.
That said, when a link in the criminal chain takes the time to read or assess a preliminary investigation report or the special prosecutor's requisitions, he is immediately arrested and ordered to stand down.
"The movements of magistrates are monitored and their phones tapped"
These interferences, which are real calls to order, take place in various forms and through several people: the president of the court, who organizes a meeting beforehand to announce to you the minister's expectations with regard to a file, conditioning all the players in the criminal chain and thus putting them in battle order; the special prosecutor, who constantly checks what you are doing. He occasionally intrudes during your deliberations to ensure that his requisitions, which he receives from the Keeper of the Seals, are respected; the Keeper of the Seals himself, who calls and tells you what to do and, if necessary, threatens you. “Why is it late? For your safety, quickly take your prescription, place them in detention and leave the scene”. As was the case in the Madougou case.
What makes CRIET an instrument of power?
What you need to know is that the government, by giving a good salary to the magistrates of the CRIET, makes them much more docile than their colleagues in the ordinary jurisdictions and courts. With such advantages and privileges, you will agree with me that it is difficult to resist the injunctions of the government. Since my resignation, it is practically impossible for the magistrates of the CRIET to act like me. Their movements are now monitored and their phones tapped.
The Beninese magistrate is a civil servant appointed by the executive. He gets his advancement, promotion and other benefits from the executive. His whole career is in the hands of the executive power. In addition, the Superior Council of the Judiciary, which is the disciplinary and sanctioning body for magistrates, is nowadays mainly composed of people appointed by the executive.
Due to the lack of independence of judges, the Beninese judicial system is no longer reliable today. If we want fair and just justice, we should review the texts.
“Every time Talon says something, he does it”
Patrice Talon has made a turn of the screw in recent years by imprisoning many opponents, some going into exile. How did it go ?
Let's say that all Beninese public administrations are nowadays attached to the Presidency of the Republic. It is therefore easier to use intimidation to put people into exile. Either by ordering remote-controlled audits, or by mounting an imaginary criminal case against you, or by summoning you, especially to CRIET, which is deemed to be a court in the hands of President Talon.
Was Reckya Madougou's terrorist financing charge clearly ordered? And by whom?
It is enough to review the declarations of the President of the Republic to be convinced of this. The Head of State had, when he had entered into a black rage, declared during interviews on RFI and France 24 that this lady had landed from a country with suitcases of money and that, without being president of a political party, she was seeking to be elected. It does not take more to deduce from whom comes the accusation of terrorist financing. President Talon has never hidden his intentions. Every time he says something, he does it. He once said, in the voice of a collaborator, that he was going to govern “with cunning and rage”. That's what he does.
“Benin begins its descent into hell”
In an open letter, sent to the Journal de l'Afrique, Essowé Batamoussi sends a message to his former colleagues at CRIET.
You know me and I know you well. We have worked hand in hand for two years and more. We have, faced with files, discussed our fears, our anxieties and our frustrations.
On April 1, 2021, I decided to abandon you and leave. I know you understood my act.
Less than a week after my departure, my supervising minister, in total denigration and contempt, declared: “I don't know this judge”. Worse, I am now and henceforth a terrorist. He instructs the special prosecutor to file charges against me. I understood it.
The politician works like this. His interests and nothing but his interests.
I know you want to be like me. To leave. To leave. To have peaceful sleep, peace of heart and mind. I also know that you are tired of hearing during your sleep the tears and lamentations of children who claim their father and mother from you because they have been orphaned by you. These children, I hear them say: “Mr. Judge, I saw the minister and he asked me to come and see you. He said you're the one who orphaned me. Judge, I want my parents to feed me, dress me and take me to school, like you do with your children”.
The spirit of the judicial widow and widower torments your sleep because they have been unjustly condemned.
The spirit of parents, relatives and friends of the arbitrarily condemned persecutes you every day and every day.
The soul of the dead persecutes you.
You and your family will no longer be at peace.
The country begins its descent into hell.
Judges, isn't that enough to say no?
I, human, try to understand you. The privileges and advantages of CRIET, you have to be crazy to spit on it. And then, how to leave when one's movements are monitored, when one is wiretapped?
Know that you retain your agency and that the victims and God will never understand and forgive your role unless you break your chains.
Know it, your masters today will become your executioners tomorrow. The examples are legion.