Former rebel leader and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro was tried in absentia for “endangering state security.” Observers say the conviction was related to his presidential ambitions.
Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader and prime minister of Ivory Coast, was sentenced to life in prison by a criminal court in the capital Abidjan on Wednesday.
Soro was sentenced in absentia in a case that began on May 19, and saw he and 19 associates on trial for activities ahead of the country’s 2020 presidential election.
The court found Soro and his associates guilty of having committed acts “endangering state security” and “civil and military insurrection” ahead of elections — controversially won by incumbent President Allasane Ouattara — in October 2020.
Several of Soro’s associates received 20-year sentences for their role in the activities in question. Two of Soro’s brothers and another close associate were also handed 17-month sentences for “disturbing public order.”
Defendants decry trial as politically motivated
Beyond the prison sentences, the court fined the defendants, ordering them to pay the Ivorian state a penalty of roughly €150 million ($179 million). The court also ordered the confiscation of properties belonging to Soro and his associates for the “subversive acts” they are accused of having committed.
Sixteen of the 20 defendants were present in the courthouse, while the presiding judge issued arrest warrants for those in exile — including Soro.
Soro, who decried the trial as politically motivated, denounced the ruling, saying it, “shows once again the voluntary submission of the Ivorian judiciary to the diktats of the executive.”
Soro’s defense team told reporters they would, “use all means at the national and international levels” to overturn Wednesday’s decision.
End of a political friendship in Ivory Coast
Soro helped Ouattara become president in 2011, after incumbent Laurent Gbagbo refused to concede, plunging the country into violence that claimed around 3,000 lives. Soro then served as Ouattara’s prime minister in 2011, and was named speaker of the National Assembly in 2012 — a post he held until 2019.
The two, however, drifted apart, something observers say had to do with Soro’s presidential ambitions. In April 2020, Soro was found guilty of having embezzled public funds while serving as prime minister, a conviction that ultimately barred him from running for president.
For Soro, the plot is clear: “The ultimate goal of this trial,” he said, “is to definitively exclude me from the political field in Ivory Coast.”
Speaking with a French magazine in October 2020, President Ouattara predicted what the future would hold for his former ally: “For him, it will be life imprisonment.”