The International Criminal Court has made two arrests in an extraordinary case concerning war crimes in the Central African Republic, with connections to a notorious fraudster hiding in France. Alfred Yekatom, an MP nicknamed “Rambo”, was arrested in November while Patrice Ngaissona was arrested December 12 in France on an ICC warrant. Ngaissona is a former head of the CAR football federation.
Ngaissona was the self-styled political co-ordinator of the anti-Balakar militias, and stands accused of war crimes. His militia carried out sustained attacks on the country’s Muslim population in 2013-2014. He faces charges of crimes against humanity, extermination, torture, attacking civilians recruiting child soldiers. Yekatom faces charges of torture.
The anti-Balaka was a predominantly Christian group that fought against the Seleka, a group of armed rebels, mostly Muslim, who overthrew the sitting President, Francois Bozize, in March 2013. The country is currently ruled by a transitional government and a UN peacekeeping force remains on site. While the ICC recognises the two groups were engaged in armed conflict, they allege that actions of the anti-Balaka constituted war crimes and are prosecuting on that basis.
Ange Oueifio was a professional footballer who played for both PSG in Paris and Motherwell in Scotland. He is a dual French-CAR citizen. He is also the nephew of former president, Francois Bozize. In 2014 the French Minister for Public Finances, Michel Sapin, froze Ouifio’s assets as part of an investigation. It was alleged that he was funding the anti-Balaka though for various reasons a conviction could not be secured. Oueifio also has clear ties to the notorious global fraudster, Mukhtar Ablyazov, who just so happens to be hiding out in France. He is a wanted man across much of the world, including the UK from where he fled to France after being convicted in London’s High Court.
Ablyazov and his wife Alma Shalabayeva acquired CAR passports under the former president, Bozize, Oueifio’s uncle. They were issued under the names Marat Ayan and Alma Ayan. CAR is widely known to sell passports. It is believed that it was with his fake CAR passport that Ablyazov managed to escape a 22-month prison sentence when he fled the country in 2012.
According to documents seen by EUAC, Ouiefio received around $3m from Ablyazov’s son-in-law, Iliyas Khrapunov, between 2011-2013, and possibly later. Khrapunov has recently been found guilty of helping Ablyazov launder hundreds of millions of dollars from the proceeds of crime through various offshore shell companies and his fake investment company, Swiss Development Group (SDG).
Payments to Ouiefio were generically called “investment into Africa” and were routed via the Khrapunov-controlled companies Amber Ltd, Hazel Ltd, Beron Holdings Ltd, and Aim Resources Ltd. One of Oueifio’s “consultancy agreements”, dated the 25th of January 2012, allowed him to receive up to $10m. Khrapunov and his wife, Madina Ablyazova (Mukhtar’s daughter), also took CAR passports and were given consular roles in 2013.
Khrapunov’s company, Vilder Company SA, has paid various bills for the CAR embassy in Geneva, as well as for the ambassador’s parking between 2013-2014. At the same time, Khrapunov and Ablyazova flaunted themselves around Geneva in cars with diplomatic number plates.
Clearly a number of questions remain unresolved: for what purpose was Khrapunov pushing millions of dollars to Oueifio? And were Khrapunov and his boss, Ablyazov, funnelling money to the anti-Balaka through Oueifio, in order to secure a safe haven should Ablyazov have to flee Europe altogether? More importantly, what were these proceeds of crime actually used for, and did the money allow crimes against humanity?
This is a highly unusual case and the ICC proceedings are set to be explosive.