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Cameroonian corruption fighter Paul Eric Kingue is free!

In a huge victory for corruption fighters everywhere and Cameroon in particular, Paul Eric Kingue was released from prison after more than seven years of unlawful imprisonment. His crime: denouncing a French-owned banana producing company for alleged tax fraud and human rights abuses. Read the full story.

In 2007 Kingue accused the Cameroon-based branch of French banana producer Plantations du Haut Penja of tax fraud. After demonstrations in Njombe-Penja, the district in West Cameroon where he was elected mayor, Kingue was arrested in February 2008 and charged with orchestrating the protests.

His case came to the attention of Transparency International Cameroon‘s Anti-Corruption Legal Advice Centre while he was in prison. Numerous human rights organisations and other international organisations have been pushing for this freedom since his imprisonment. Transparency International Cameroon published a report last year backing his accusations and highlighting how his prosecution was completely flawed and appeared to be in retaliation his accusations.

In a statement pressing for his freedom three weeks ago José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International said this: “Why is this brave corruption fighter who dares to hold the powerful to account being treated like a criminal? The Cameroonian judiciary should release this important and vital advocate for workers’ and people’s rights immediately.”

The Supreme Court in Yaoundé decided on 16 July to release him after about seven years of incarceration in the Nkongsamba and Douala prisons.

In August last year, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion stating that a number of procedural guarantees were not applied in Kingue’s case, questioning the independence of the judiciary and obliging the government to ensure the release and compensation of Kingue.

As a result of this the public prosecutor dropped the charges against him early this year. In the last hearing that took place on 18 June, Kingue was supposed to be released. But the judge adjourned the case on what can only be described as a technicality, finally releasing him a month later.

Transparency International Cameroon, through its Anti-Corruption Legal Advice Centre, has been investigating allegations of bad business practices made against Plantations du Haut Penja, a company that runs a number of banana plantations in Njombé-Penja, a district in West Cameroon. PHP is owned by the French multinational Compagnie Fruitière.

It is alleged that PHP has not paid tax on its operations in Njombé-Penja, thereby depriving a poor region of much-needed funds for development. It is also alleged that PHP uses pesticides banned in Europe, causing damage to both the health of its workers and the land. The company denies all the allegations against it.

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