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French companies claim CFA316.8bln from Cameroonian State

French companies claim CFA316.8bln from Cameroonian State
  • Comments   -   Tuesday, 31 May 2022 03:52

(Business in Cameroon) - The financial expert and former prisoner, Michel Thierry Atangana, initiated talks with Cameroonian authorities to make them pay debts owed to French companies as part of the Steering and Monitoring Committee for Road Works (Copisupr). This Committee, created in the early 1990s and composed of French companies (Dumez, Socamat, EJL, ETPC, Jean Lefebvre, France Telecom ...), demands the payment of a debt now valued at CFA316.8 billion.

This debt, we learn, is made up of the nominal amount of CFA26.4 billion plus interest due to the delay in the payment per the agreement signed between the Republic of Cameroon, represented by the Minister of Finance, Chairman of the Commission on State Arrears and the French companies mentioned above. This agreement sets the interest rate at 10.5% per year, from the due date not respected by one of the parties until the actual day of payment.

Reminder

During the 1980s, Cameroon experienced one of the most serious economic crises in its history. This was marked in particular by the sharp decline in credits allocated to the public investment budget and the accumulation of unpaid bills to companies, especially those in the building and public works sector. The companies had then decided, at least as far as European and French companies were concerned, to leave Cameroon.

The government then hired Michel Thierry Atangana to convince French companies to maintain their activities in the country. The process required the regularization of debts and the suspension of payment schedules. This led in 1989 to the signing of conventions of regularization and final settlement of debts between the State of Cameroon and the supplier companies.

Failure to meet deadlines

However, Cameroon has not met the deadlines, which has increased the amount of debt. To deal with this situation, the President of the Republic created Copisupr and appointed Michel Thierry Atangana as Manager.

To raise resources, Copisupr needed bank certificates which in turn required the concentration of the assets of the partner companies through demand deposits. Two escrow accounts were opened and managed jointly by the Paymaster General of Douala, representing the State of Cameroon, and the French oil companies in particular. The companies were required to transfer the special tax on petroleum products to the escrow accounts.

While things seemed to be going well with an effective mobilization of partner companies, the Government of Cameroon put an end to the operations, saying that these agreements doubled the debts following the devaluation of the CFAF in 1994.

Three years later, when Michel Thierry Atangana was arrested for embezzlement of public funds, the contributions of the partner companies were returned to the Treasury following a judge's order to close the escrow accounts.

However, faced with recurrent requests from Copisupr stakeholders, notably French companies, Cameroon then ordered several investigations by its specialized services. Investigations found that Cameroon owes the plaintiffs CFA316.8 billion.

Meanwhile, Mr. Atangana, who was arrested in 1997 and sentenced to 20 years in prison for a case of embezzlement of public funds, was released in February 2014 thanks to a presidential decree. He has always denied the allegations against him.

Sylvain Andzongo

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