Cocaine trafficking trial in Ivory Coast: ten years in prison required against thirteen defendants

After three months of legal drama, the trial of the vast international cocaine trafficking orchestrated between the coastal towns of San Pedro and Abidjan, in which nineteen defendants and four companies are implicated, is nearing its conclusion. Monday April 15, the lawyer for the State of Côte d’Ivoire, a civil party, gave his conclusions, followed by the prosecution of the economic and financial penal center of Abidjan who requested ten years in prison against thirteen defendants.

“Wine and women will ruin you.” For the opening of his pleading, Mr. Abdoulaye Ben Meite, representing the State of Côte d’Ivoire, chose a passage from the Old Testament, because it is “thanks to a fight that occurred in an apartment located in Koumassi [municipality of Abidjan] and having given rise to assault and battery carried out by Gustavo Alberto Valencia Sepulveda [one of the main accused] on a girl of joy following their disagreement on the modalities of disinterestedness of the latter in return of carnal intercourse”, that the affair began.

Informed by the victim, the Ivorian police searched the villa where Mr. Valencia Sepulveda resided on April 15, 2022 and found the first blocks of the record seizure of three tons of cocaine for which the nineteen accused are appearing.

60 billion CFA francs claimed from the “brains” of trafficking

The “girl of joy” mentioned by Me Abdoulaye Ben Meite is called Mariam S (the first name has been changed). She too should have been present on the civil parties’ bench, the blows that Mr. Sepulveda Valencia had given her to the face having earned her thirty days of total interruption of work. It was not until the previous hearing, on March 11, that the president of the court inquired about his absence. And learns, at the same time as the hearing, of the death of Ms. Sacko in October 2023, without the causes being revealed. As the victim’s family was not represented, the State of Côte d’Ivoire was the only civil party to the trial.

Of the nineteen individuals accused, Mr. Abdoulaye Ben Meite first singled out Miguel Angel Devesa Mera, “the head of a well-organized network of drug traffickers established in Ivory Coast for several years and operating transnationally.” . The latter, however, “collaborated without any reservation in revealing the truth”, praised the lawyer, and delivered “invariable statements” with “strong details”, damning for eleven of his co-defendants.

The civil party is therefore demanding from Miguel Angel Devesa Mera the sum of 60 billion CFA francs (some 90 million euros), and the “solidarity” payment of 10 billion CFA francs (around 15 million euros) to four of his right-hand men – Gustavo Alberto Valencia Sepulveda, Aitor Picabea, Jose Maria Cadabal Muniz and Perez Garcia Helbert – and his front company, Kibor Africa.

Among the nineteen accused on trial, only the former commander of the anti-drug section of San Pedro, Lamand Bakayoko, should be able to be exonerated, Miguel Angel Devesa Mera having exonerated him in his testimony and the prosecution having requested his release . All the others were found guilty by the prosecution. Charges of international drug trafficking and criminal conspiracy were brought against fourteen of them.

The property of the culprits seized for the benefit of the State

Curiously, the public prosecutor requested the same sentence for thirteen defendants: ten years in prison and a fine of 100 million CFA francs (some 150,000 euros). The alleged mastermind of the network, Miguel Angel Devesa Mera, who admitted all the charges attributed to him, and his right-hand man Gustavo Alberto Valencia Sepulveda, whom the prosecution judges guilty of “willful assault and battery”, are therefore exposed to the same sentence as the cook of Pasta e Pizza, against whom no incriminating facts have been established.

For others, the sentences should be lighter. The prosecution requested five years in prison and a fine of 50 million CFA francs (around 76 million euros) for Marcelle Akpoué, one of the associates of Kibor Africa, and thirty-six months in prison and 10 million fine of CFA francs (some 15,000 euros) for Yannick Agrey Dago, regional director of the Ivorian Electricity Company, who allegedly helped Miguel Angel Devesa Mera buy a house in San Pedro. In both cases, the public prosecutor charged him with complicity in drug trafficking.

As for the businessmen who appeared for tax fraud, the prosecution requested against them twenty-four months in prison and a fine of 30 million CFA francs (approximately 45,000 euros), to which must be added 30 million CFA francs. additional fine for companies. All the property of those guilty of drug trafficking, concluded the public prosecutor, must be seized for the benefit of the State of Côte d’Ivoire.