Cotonou, Benin | AFP | Benin opposition politician Sebastien Ajavon on Wednesday took the country’s government to court, demanding nearly $990 million in damages after a string of arrests and prosecutions.
One of the failed presidential candidate’s four lawyers, Julien Bensimhon, told the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights in Arusha, Tanzania, that his client needed its protection.
Benin’s courts “were not in a position to do it”, he said, adding that Ajavon’s right to liberty, property, a fair trial and the presumption of innocence had been infringed, he added.
The damages were for psychological damage and harm to his commercial interests, the court was told, according to a live stream of proceedings broadcast online.
Ajavon’s lawyers said their client had been subjected to “harassment” and a “calculated plot” for the last two years, they added.
In particular, they noted the seizure of 18 kilogrammes of cocaine in a container belonging to his import business. The case was later dropped.
But they also highlighted the suspension for several months of two media organisations belonging to Ajavon and more recently a tax adjustment of more than $300 million (254 million euros).
Two out of three witnesses who were due to testify on Wednesday did not travel to Tanzania and said they had received threats, according to statements they made seen by AFP.
Defence lawyers for Benin’s government said “all internal legal avenues had not been exhausted” and there was no need to go to the African court.
“The claimant’s appeal is inadmissible in your jurisdiction, said Elie Kponou, who called Ajavon’s accusations “outrageous”.
Ajavon, dubbed Benin’s “Chicken King” after he made his fortune in livestock, contested the last presidential election in the tiny West African nation in 2016.
He came third with 23 percent of the votes behind the eventual winner, businessman Patrice Talon, and the former prime minister and investment banker, Lionel Zinsou.
Ajavon in March launched his own political party and made known he wants to stand at the next election that is expected in 2020.
Talon defeated Zinsou in the second round with the help of Ajavon but then promptly sacked three ministers close to his rival in his first months in power.