Former Prime Minister of Cote d'Ivoire, Guillaume Soro, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in planning a coup against President Alassane Ouattara, the man he helped to take power about a decade ago.
A court in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan, gave the verdict on Wednesday, following a trial of Mr Soro in absentia.
He was accused of “conspiracy…attempt to undermine the authority of the state…and dissemination and publication of false news discrediting the institutions and their operation, resulting in damage to public morale,” the charge sheet filed by the state prosecutor, Richard Adou, read.
Soro was prosecuted alongside 19 other co-defendants, all of them members of his Generations and Solidarity Movement.
Two of his co-defendants, Souleymane Kamagate and Affoussy Bamba, were each given 20-year jail terms. Three other people, among them two of Soro’s brothers and a former aide of his, each got 17-month jail terms.
The court also ordered the confiscation of Soro ‘s assets and the assets of his 19 co-defendants, as well as the dissolution of his political grouping – the Generations and Solidary Movement – which was found guilty of involvement in “subversive acts”.
All the convicts were also fined a combined $179 million to be paid to the Ivorian government.
Through his lawyers, Soro, a former rebel leader turned politician who has been in exile in Europe for the last two years, said the charges are politically motivated.
The court’s decision adds another dimension to Cote d'Ivoire's ongoing political tension which stems from its civil war.
Soro first came to the international limelight in 2002 when he led a rebel group that waged a war against then newly elected President Laurent Gbagbo. Following a peace deal, he would go on to serve in the national unity government in various capacities, including as Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, when he resigned following the post-election violence that erupted when Gbagbo refused to concede defeat to Alassane Ouattara.
Soro’s Patriotic Forces rebel group joined forces with others and pledged allegiance to Ouattara. Months of fighting led to the arrest of Gbagbo and his transfer to The Hague where he was tried for war crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Ouattara later appointed Soro as Prime Minister from 2011-2012, where he was elected President of the National Assembly (Parliamentary Speaker), a position he held until his resignation in 2019 amidst disagreement with Ouattara over his presidential ambition.
Like Ouattara, Soro hails from the north of the country, which felt politically marginalised by the southern dominated establishment.
The accusation that Soro planned a coup came as he planned to return to the country to contest in the 2020 elections, which saw Ouattara elected for a controversial third term. Soro was one of about 40 candidates that were disqualified from contesting the election.
A large portion of the opposition subsequently boycotted the poll, accusing Ouattara of violating the constitutional term limit by running for another term.
This is the second time Soro has been sentenced by the Ouattara administration. He was first sentenced in April 2020 to 20 years in prison and fined 4.5 billion CFA francs ($8.18 million), in addition to being deprived of his civic rights for a period of five years, after being found guilty of embezzling public funds and money laundering.
This latest development comes just six days after the return of Gbagbo, following his acquittal by the International Criminal Court.