Top Benin opposition politician facing drug trafficking charges

Presidential candidate, Sebastien Ajavon, arrives to cast his vote during a presidential election at a polling station in Cotonou, Benin March 6, 2016. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye
Presidential candidate, Sebastien Ajavon, arrives to cast his vote during a presidential election at a polling station in Cotonou, Benin March 6, 2016. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Benin tycoon and opposition politician Sebastien Ajavon is facing trial for alleged drug trafficking despite being cleared of any involvement in the same case two years ago, a court heard on Thursday.

The former presidential candidate was not in court in the administrative capital, Porto Novo, but was represented by 10 lawyers, who denounced the “blatant violation” of his rights.

Ajavon — dubbed Benin’s “Chicken King” after he made his fortune in livestock — was called to attend court less than a week ago yet was not notified whether it was as a witness or a defendant, according to court documents seen by AFP.

His lawyers discovered on Thursday that their client and three others were accused of “high-risk international drug trafficking”, which carries a prison term of 10-20 years.

“How can you summon the same people for the same events when they have already been tried and acquitted?” his Paris-based lawyer, Marc Bensimhon, asked after the hearing.

“I can only imagine that Beninese politics dictates Beninese justice,” he told reporters.

Ajavon was arrested in October 2016 after the discovery of about 18 kilograms (40 pounds) of cocaine with an estimated street value of nine billion CFA francs ($15.7 million, 13.7 million euros) in a container heading to one of his businesses.