The former head of the computer cell at the Directorate of Personnel Expenses and Pensions at the Minfi is found guilty of having inserted about fifty fraudulent files in the balance of the State having facilitated a disbursement of more than 100 million francs. This hijacking was discovered in 2018.
The end of the year is wasted for Hubert Abena. Former head of the computer cell at the Directorate of Personnel Expenditure and Pensions (Ddpp) at the Ministry of Finance (Minfi), a trio of judges of the Special Criminal Court (TCS) found him guilty of having facilitated the commission of a vast financial fraud that allowed the public treasury to bleed to the tune of 145.8 million francs, in particular for having entered in the balance file of the State "55 false statements of the sums due".
Statements of sums due are files on the basis of which the State Treasury makes payments vulgarly called reminders (arrears of salaries, pensions, allowances, advancements, survivor's pension, emoluments, mission expenses etc.). for the benefit of active or retired civil servants. The alleged fraud was perpetrated for the benefit of 68 people (identified by name) between October and November 2019.
Mr. Abena got away with 15 years in prison, the prosecution had requested the "maximum penalty": life imprisonment. But the judges instead granted "extenuating circumstances" to the computer scientist they called a "first-time offender" for his "good standing at the bar, responding with respect to the questions put to him." In addition to the prison sentence, Mr. Abena will have to pay the State of Cameroon, a civil party in the trial, damages up to the amount in question, plus the costs generated by the proceedings (costs) set at 7.4 million francs.
Emmanuel Leubou denounced the hijacking
On the unusual side, while the court was reading its judgment, four ladies could be seen in the courtroom holding hands whispering prayers sometimes accompanied by big gestures to the sky In the other row, a woman of a very advanced age was ginning her rosary. Other people in the room were showing signs of impatience in the hope, no doubt, of experiencing the miracle live. Nothing has done that.
Before justifying the guilt of the computer scientist, the court set the scene by returning to the merits of the case. Head of the Ddpp's IT unit for more than a decade, Mr. Abena was replaced in early 2015 by Emmanuel Leubou, his deputy for a long time, who was also a fellow bench.
The arrival of Mr Leubou at the helm of the said computer cell had made it possible to unmask many fraudulent circuits used for siphoning off State coffers In fact, the checks made on the State balance file by Mr Leubou exposed large undue payments, namely the abolition of repayments of advances on pension and balances, salaries paid to certain public officials calculated at the external rate, a privilege exclusively reserved for civil servants serving strangely (embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions).
In May 2018, following a judicial investigation into the fraud networks denounced by Mr. Leubou, he was arrested. Although a whistleblower, he will be suspected of being himself the mastermind of the vast fraud that he helped to expose. This case of misappropriation is pending before the TCS.
A hijacking unmasked unmasked?
With the incarceration of Mr. Leubou in 2018, Mr. Abena made his comeback at the Ministry of Finance, after a detour to the Sigipes cell (Computerized System for the Integrated Management of State Personnel and Pay) at the Ministry of Civil Service and Administrative Reform.
For good reason: the Directorate-General for the Budget had set up an ad-hoc committee to deal with the processing of salaries and statements of sums due on the grounds that Mr Leubou's replacement was not yet sufficiently experienced to fully carry out his duties. The ad-hoc committee in question was chaired by Laurent Onguene Awana, then director of Cenadi (National Centre for the Development of Informatics). The committee was deputy by Mr. Abena and had as members: Robert Simo Kengne, the director of the Ddpp, the head of the pay litigation management service, the head of the military pensions service, among others.
In addition to the division of labour within the Committee, the prosecution said, Mr. Abena was supposed to record in a machine only the data from the calculations made by the other members of the committee, and made available to him through an electronic file. He had a secret code (User) for this purpose. The problem is that the accused is accused of having directly entered 55 statements of sums due in machine without subjecting them to prior processing before the rest of the Committee. The prosecution discovered that the disputed files were riddled with erroneous information.
Out of normal circuit…
In justifying its decision, the court recalled that during his testimony Mr. Abena "took refuge behind the absence of a procedural manual" in the ad-hoc committee and "collective work to claim his innocence". Defence rejected by the court on the ground that "at no time does it appear that [Mr. Abena] was entitled to receive the statements of sums due". In addition, the court added, the accused confessed during the investigations that the disputed files came from friends.
For the court, Mr. Abena "could not, in view of his long career, his proven skills, the confidence placed in him by the Minister of Finance, the troubles of Emmanuel Leubou [;..]" afford to take the acts in question. Having taken it upon himself, insists the court, "to receive the files out of regular circuit he facilitated the payment" quarreled and allowed his acolytes "to extort public funds" on the basis of false statements of sums due. Hence the complicity held against his person.
"As I said, in my heart, I am not guilty … I was acting on the instructions of the Minister of Finance."
During the proceedings, the defense had considered the prosecutions lame on the pretext that the prosecutor's office has so far not initiated any proceedings against the real beneficiaries of the disputed funds. The court argued that the prosecutor's office has the opportunity to prosecute for embezzlement, but also complicity in a fact is an autonomous offence.
"As I said, in my heart, I am not guilty … I was acting on the instructions of the finance minister," Abena said as a "final statement" before the judges stepped down to work on his various sentences. The computer scientist took the opportunity by briefly returning to the work of the ad-hoc committee stating that the disputed files "were dealt with in a set of 600 files". "I never had this intention on my part to facilitate a diversion," he concluded.
So it will be 15 years firm for this case. According to a source close to the file, after the discovery of the scandal deplored, the Minfi decided to audit not only the decade of management of Mr. Abena in the computer cell of the Ddpp, but also the period covering his entire stay in the ad-hoc committee. This audit imputes to the computer scientist, says the source, a (other) supposed complicity in embezzlement of nearly 2 billion francs. This procedure is only at the stage of the police investigation before the TCS.