Written by Staff Writer
Leading Kenyan pro-democracy activists Anwar El Ghazal and Kenyan lawyer Femi Falana were indicted in May 2014 for helping arrange the trial of an Iranian businessman and exiled Angolan opposition leader, Carlos Cardoso. The latter had been wanted by Interpol over a $500 million hotel fraud scheme in South Africa.
The suspects were arrested in Nairobi. They allegedly hatched an elaborate plot with Interpol to have Cardoso extradited to France, where he faced accusations of fraud and embezzlement from his native Angola.
Cardoso was subsequently detained and, in an unprecedented move, exiled to Burkina Faso, a former French colony. The case is seen as an attempt to extradite a foreign national facing trial in France.
Worse, the exile, Cardoso’s son, was arrested and tortured in Burkina Faso and eventually returned to France to stand trial for several crimes.
Cardoso died in September 2014, five years after being arrested.
That was three months before the case was abruptly withdrawn on a procedural technicality — of only one round of questioning. The judge at the time claimed he had not received the full file as the authorities at the Foreign Minister’s office had not informed him of the arrests.
The development became infamous in Burkina Faso because it is viewed as a power play by President Roch Marc Kabore, who was elected in 2015 but is widely regarded as being “re-elected” since he had been in power since 2014.
According to sources in Burkina Faso who claimed to have observed the trial, the ruling government refused to call Cardoso’s son, Mauro, as a witness. It was his testimony that prompted the decision to lift the travel ban on the son.
The son, Mauro Cardoso, is pictured at a rally in Brazil in February 2016. CNN
Since the death of his father in 2016, Mauro Cardoso has been living under house arrest in France. He said he had expected to hear from his father on his 50th birthday in July 2018, just weeks before his death.
But those hoping to hear from his father were disappointed. After long wait, the Cardoso family received a letter saying his father had been found dead in his cell in France. The coroner’s report concluded he had died as a result of excessive medication and high blood pressure.
According to a report by Amnesty International, more than 10 witnesses, most of them at the trial, reported Cardoso was tortured or ill-treated during the arrest, interrogation and investigation into his case.
In a 2017 report, Human Rights Watch said the trial had been nothing more than “a political charade.”
The judge at the time of the death of Cardoso’s father, Marcel Donnet, told the press there was “no evidence whatsoever of torture or ill-treatment during his detention” despite testimonies by witnesses who reported Cardoso had been subjected to “a well-established form of torture.”
“The judicial system may provide a fair trial … [but] such ineffectiveness frequently opens the door to the prosecution of criminal proceedings filed for alleged political reasons,” said HRW in a 2017 report.
Roch-Marc Kabore, the current president of Burkina Faso, did not respond to a request for comment but he has previously denied knowledge of the trial or the possible torture of Cardoso.
“I was promised that the trial would be fair… There were no details on the case and that the justice system has been so politicized to one of the criminals” who masterminded the coup in the 1990s, he told French journalists in 2016.
“From their testimonies, it does not appear that Cardoso was tortured. It does not appear that the representative of the Arab donors (from Morocco) who attended the event received a bounty. It is not apparent that Burkina Faso’s security forces conspired against him.”
A London-based political commentator who only goes by the name Iaheg said he was critical of Kabore.
“In [Burkina Faso] Burkinabes tend to be very hawkish and nice-looking intellectuals,” he said, adding, “They are moralists in private but in public they behave like rationalists.”