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Parts of West African Corruption Case Can

International Herald Tribune
May 24, 2007

A diplomatic spat between two west African nations based on allegations of multimillion-dollar corruption in the oil industry will be untangled by the International Court of Justice after judges ruled Thursday they can adjudicate in parts of the dispute. The case, which will likely take years to settle, involves Guinean entrepreneur Ahmadou Sadio Diallo, who was jailed by Congolese authorities and then deported in 1996 following a dispute over millions of dollars (euros) that Congolese oil companies owed to two trading companies he had set up.

Diallo, who moved to Congo in 1964, won a court decision in 1995 against Zaire Shell. Guinea charges that rather than pay, Zaire Shell teamed up with the other companies Diallo was suing — Zaire Mobile, Zaire Fina and Gecamines — to bribe Prime Minister Kengo Wa Dondo to expel Diallo. "The real reason for this absurd and arbitrary measure was simply a desire to get rid of Mr. Diallo," and to protect the "untouchable" oil companies, Guinea said in its written application to the World Court. Guinea is demanding US$36 billion (€27 billion) in damages from Congo for jailing and expelling Diallo.

Congo denies it should be held accountable for actions taken by the corrupt regime of former dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, which was overthrown in a 1996 coup, and also says the compensation sought would be "materially impossible and irrevocably harmful" to its economy. Those claims will be argued by lawyers from Guinea and Congo in the next stage of the hearings, after judges on Thursday said parts of the case were admissible.

The 15-judge panel said it could rule on elements of the case linked to Diallo's rights as a Guinean citizen and as a major shareholder in his two companies, but not on the parts of the case dealing directly with the two companies — because the companies were both set up in Congo and the case did not involve a conflict between two states.

The International Court of Justice, the U.N.'s highest judicial body, only hears disputes between U.N. member states, not criminal cases against individuals. It was not immediately clear whether the decision would have any impact on the amount of compensation being sought by Guinea. Guinea says it is acting as Diallo's "protector," and that the nation "suffered injury as a result of injustice and inhuman and degrading treatment inflicted upon its national."

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