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Benin to auction off assets held by opposition tycoon

By AFP
Benin In exile: Businessman and former presidential candidate Sebastien Ajavon.  By BERTRAND GUAY AFP
JUL 20, 2022 LISTEN
In exile: Businessman and former presidential candidate Sebastien Ajavon. By BERTRAND GUAY (AFP)

The West African state of Benin says it will auction off art, luxury furniture and a Rolls-Royce limousine seized from an opposition tycoon who lives in exile in Paris.

On August 9, auctioneers in Cotonou, the country's economic hub, will put under the hammer 140 items belonging to Sebastien Ajavon, who has been handed a 20-year sentence on drugs charges.

The sale includes a Rolls-Royce whose starting price is 80 million CFA francs ($122,339), the judicial branch of Benin's finance ministry said in a statement late Tuesday.

The property was taken from Ajavon's home in central Cotonou on July 1 by tax agents, who cleared out the premises working under a heavy police and military escort.

Ajavon made a fortune in agribusiness before entering politics.

He ran in the March 2016 presidential elections as an independent, arriving in third place in the first round of voting.

In the runoff vote, Ajavon threw his support behind another successful businessman, Patrice Talon, who eventually won.

Ajavon's electoral foray caused relations with Talon -- who was already a competitor in business -- to go quickly downhill

In October 2016, Ajavon was arrested after around 18 kilogrammes (39.6 pounds) of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $14 million, was discovered in a freight container that was being shipped to one of his companies.

He was discharged several months later for lack of evidence.

But in 2018 a special court handed him a 20-year jail term in absentia.

The conviction was branded illegal by the African Court on Human and People's Rights, but Benin has refused to overturn it.

Ajavon was handed a second conviction, with a five-year jail sentence, in March 2021 for alleged fraud and use of fake documents.

Talon, who made his fortune in the cotton industry, was re-elected last year on the back of a campaign that touted his record of economic reform.

But critics say his economic success has gone hand-in-hand with iron-fisted rule that has devastated one of the region's most vibrant political cultures.

Some opposition figures have fled the country while others have been disqualified from running in elections or targeted for probes, they say.

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