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Wikileaks Cable 9: How U.S. Chancellery Pressured Biya to Sack Abah Abah 

This cable was written in 2007 during the tenure of Ambassador Niels Marquardt. It sounds a warning signal to the U.S. government, all U.S. agencies and partners against associating with a man termed the “undisputed paragon of corruption” – former Finance minister Polycarpe Abah Abah.

The cable categorically places the U.S. and its allies on alert against a very notorious regime baron who was on a sly credibility-hunt. According to this cable, the U.S. greatly compromises its moral standing when its representatives interact with or entertain relations with Polycarpe Abah Abah, former Finance minister who tactfully exploited and depended on such ties to salvage his “abysmal reputation in Cameroon”.

Abah Abah is the former Finance minister who was sacked and arrested in 2007 on charges of embezzlement of public funds. He is currently held at the Kondengui Maximum Security Prison. Though judicial proceedings are still ongoing at the Mfoundi High Court on the allegations leveled against him, it is likely that Abah Abah could be condemned like earlier incarcerated regime heavyweights.

In this diplomatic cable, we learn that the U.S. chancellery in Yaounde suspected that President Paul Biya was reluctant to sack Abah Abah despite being presented with evidence of his corrupt practices. They were therefore requesting their government to take action to force the Cameroon president’s hand.

Prior to his downfall, Abah Abah was a prominent figure in public life in Cameroon with a history of flamboyance and love for luxury. He was reputed for doling out banknotes at public functions and offering very expensive gifts to friends and collaborators. Abah Abah was also a very influential personality using his position to appoint and patronize the placement of allies and relatives in very strategic positions. To the public eye, he starkly captured the image of the rich elite that plunder Cameroon’s wealth. But to the utter amazement of many in the public, Abah Abah seemed to be making friends in powerful diplomatic circles in Yaounde and abroad.

The fears about “tarnishing” the reputation of the U:S. government expressed in this cable are borne out of this unusual covering Abah Abah had been enjoying from his interaction with personalities in both the U.S. and Europe. The immediate motivation to fire this clarion call against public associations with Abah Abah arose in May 2007 when he was invited by “well-meaning officials” to attend the G8 Finance Ministers Meeting in Germany. With the corrupt regime baron posing with leading world figures attending the confab, the cable argues, the opportunity “had the perverse effect of bolstering his image in Cameroon” and being at odds with Western claims to stamp-out corruption and install good governance across Africa. 

To buttress the case on the apparatchik’s corrupt nature, the cable highlights that despite being a public servant in a poor country, Abah Abah “has a personal fortune in foreign accounts exceeding USD 200 million, and that he continues to embezzle at an alarming rate”. Based on these, the only reason why Abah Abah was not blacklisted by the embassy in Yaounde was politeness, we learn from the cable. The cable highlights a promise from President Biya to sack Abah Abah before July 22 elections in 2007. The President only acted in September after his ruling party secured a comfortable majority in parliament.

See full text of the U.S. diplomatic cable as published by Wikileaks below.

Subject: Cameroon: USG Should Avoid Association with Finance Minister Polycarpe Abah Abah
Classified: 06/05/2007
Classified By: Poloff Tad Brown

We believe that fundamental USG interests are undermined when USG officials — and those of other groups of which we are members — associate publicly with Polycarpe Abah Abah, Cameroon’s current Minister of Economy and Finance and undisputed paragon of corruption.  Abah Abah is a masterful politician who exploits his interactions with representatives of foreign governments and agencies to counter his abyssmal reputation in Cameroon.  In so doing, he also tarnishes the image of his sometimes unwitting interlocutors, and their governments, in the eyes of Cameroonians. In order to advance the fight against corruption and failed governance (paramount USG priorities in Cameroon), we recommend that USG officials (and associations to which the USG is a member) avoid public contact with Abah Abah.

The meeting last week of G8 finance ministers in Germany provides an example where presumably well-meaning officials invited Abah Abah to participate in a delegation of African finance ministers.  Unfortunately, this invitation — which was not announced beforehand in Yaounde — had the perverse effect of bolstering Abah Abah’s image in Cameroon while simultaneously giving rise to questions over the effectiveness of G8 pledges to fight corruption and bad governance on the continent. Our German Embassy sources here reluctantly admit this also reflects an unwillingness on the part of their Development Minister to face up the difficult reality here — or to heed their advice on such topics.

Prior to the April World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington, Abah Abah escaped a finding of ineligibility under Presidential Proclamation 7750 (section 212f) for high level corruption only because the Presidency withdrew his visa application before a finding could be made.  We have information indicating that Abah Abah, a lifelong public servant, has a personal fortune in foreign accounts exceeding USD 200 million, and that he continues to embezzle at an alarming rate.  Post has copies of at least two audits that directly indict Abah Abah’s financial stewardship of millions of dollars in GRC funds during his tenure as the Director of Taxation.  We are currently pursuing a number of different allegations of even more lucrative corruption in his time at the Ministry of Economy and Finance (MINEFI).  We have received first-hand testimony of journalists who were bribed and threatened by Abah Abah to place favorable stories or censor negative ones.  Post will submit an updated Visas Donkey requesting a 212 (f) ineligibility at the soonest appropriate time.  In the interim, public appearances with such an individual can do nothing but harm the image and interests of the USG.

For business that must be conducted with MINEFI, the USG has a palatable Cameroonian interlocutor in Lazare Essimi Menye, Minister Delegate in Charge of the Budget, who spent his career working with international financial institutions in Washington and who is generally perceived to align himself with reformers within the GRC.

We obviously would prefer not to urge the black-listing of a key member of Cameroon’s cabinet, but overarching USG objectives on anti-corruption require that the USG distance itself as much as possible from such extraordinarily unsavory individuals whose corrupt acts have harmed not only their own societies, but also USG interests. We also note that President Biya told the Ambassador in April that he will fire Abah Abah before the election now scheduled for July 22.  Even if Biya does not make good on that promise (for tactical or other reasons), we believe that mounting pressure on him to dismiss — and arrest — Abah Abah in the expected post-election reshuffle will make it very hard for him to do otherwise.  Not doing so at that time would expose Biya’s declared war on corruption as a complete sham.

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