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Djibouti: Court turns to farce as Guelleh lays low

Djibouti opposition leader Abdourahman Boreh will take the stand again today in the London high court as lawyers for the government of President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh accused him of stealing millions from state contracts.

But whether anything new will emerge from the cross-examination seems doubtful. Mr Boreh gave evidence across four days last week, but each time he was charged with falsifying conversations in which he claimed to have kept the president informed of the various tenders to expand Djibouti harbour, Boreh set the court laughing with the line, “Why don’t you ask President Guelleh.”

Judge Sir Julian Flaux had indeed ordered the president to attend the hearing, but Guelleh refused, saying he was too busy running the country.

Critics claim the president’s real fear was facing the global press at an open court in the heart of London. Guelleh’s party controls all 65 seats in Parliament along with the print and electronic media. When he was first subpoenaed, Djibouti exiles and human rights groups made clear they would mount demonstrations outside his hotel and around the court. They accuse his government of corruption, torture and extra-judicial killings. 

Adding to the sense of theatre, Djibouti is being represented by Lord Charles Falconer who is shadow justice secretary on the front bench of UK opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Both Corbyn and Falconer are known for their stand on human rights. But in addition to his parliamentary duties, Falconer is a partner in the law firm Gibson Dunn and Crutcher that has the Guelleh government as one of its clients.

In court last week, Falconer looked increasingly frustrated as, time and again, he put Guelleh’s version of events to Boreh. “That’s not how I recall it,” Boreh would reply, followed by, “It’s a pity the President Guelleh isn’t here so you could ask him.”

Day after day, the back-and-forth went no where as Judge Flaux sat impassively, sometimes smiling with journalists and other observers as, yet again, Boreh shrugged and suggested Falconer summon the president to court.

Boreh fled to exile after being accused of terrorism in Djibouti, a charge he also denies. The two men had been friends until Boreh said he planned to stand for president in the 2011 election after Guelleh gave himself an unconstitutional third term which he said would be his last. There are indications he may seek a fourth term next year.

Since independence from France in 1977, Djibouti’s only two presidents have been Guelleh and his uncle who died in 2006.

In London, the corruption case against Boreh is expected to last until Christmas.

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