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Cameroon’s former PM Inoni Ephraim arrested

Police in Cameroon arrested former prime minister Inoni Ephraim on Monday as part of an investigation into corruption, one of his lawyers said.

A former junior minister with the interior ministry meanwhile was also detained as part of a separate investigation.

“He has been placed in detention … ” after having been questioned by an investigating magistrate, said the lawyer, who asked not to be identified.

A source at the court said Ephraim, who served as prime minister between 2004 and 2009, was suspected of having embezzled funds related to the bank account of Cameroon airline Camair.

Yves Michel Fotso and Paul Gamo Hamani, two former bosses of the airline, have already been detained and placed under formal investigation for embezzlement of public funds: Fotso in 2010 and Hamani in 2009.

The company ceased trading in 2008.

Operation Epervier
Ephraim’s arrest comes as part of Operation Epervier (Sparrowhawk), an anti-corruption campaign launched in 2004.

That operation has already resulted in the arrest of several senior figures in Cameroon including former ministers and the heads of state-owned companies.

But Monday’s arrest is the first time a former premier of the country has been detained.

In a part of a separate investigation on Monday, former minister Marafa Amidou Yaya was also taken into custody in relation to alleged misuse of public funds that had been meant for the presidential airplane.

The arrest came as part of Operation Albatross, over the purchase at great expense in 2004 of the presidential aircraft, which turned out to have serious technical flaws.

The presidential Boeing jet was old and in poor condition, an official investigation into the affair reported.

It malfunctioned on its first flight while it was carrying the president’s family from the country’s economic capital Douala to Paris in 2004. They had to use another aircraft for the return flight.

Marafa, who previously held a key post in the president’s office, lost his minister’s post in a Cabinet reshuffle last December.

He had been a key figure during the presidency of 79-year-old Paul Biya, who has been in power since 1982 and at one point press reports even identified him as his possible successor.

A report last November by Cameroon’s National Anti-Corruption Commission (Conac) said that €45-million in public funds had been lost or embezzled. Those figures came from a investigation Conac conducted in 2009. — AFP

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