Updated at 3:52 p.m.
While facing accusations of plotting to assassinate Benin's president and overthrow the West African nation's government, a Beninese businessman in exile in France has turned to former Senator Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and two of his Arent Fox colleagues in Washington for help.
Living in Paris since Beninese authorities accused him and three others of planning to poison President Thomas Boni Yayi in October, Patrice Talon hired Arent to promote "respect for the rule of law in Benin," according to lobbying registration report filed with Congress on Thursday. The filing adds that Bennett, along with Arent partner Gerard Leval and counsel Brett Kappel, will push for "equitable and transparent judicial procedures" for an unnamed "Benin citizen imprisoned without bail in Benin." The citizen is former Beninese minister of commerce Moudjaidou Soumanou, one of the individuals connected to the alleged assassination plot, according to Leval.
The Beninese judicial system has received criticism from the U.S. State Department. Beninese authorities frequently hold individuals indefinitely before bringing cases to a judge and sometimes make arbitrary arrests, according to a 2012 State Department report on human rights practices.
Bennett, an Arent senior policy adviser, said Benin under Yayi might be heading in the same direction as Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, who secured the removal of presidential term limits and faced criticism from human rights groups. Yayi, who has led Benin since 2006, won election to a second term in 2011 and opponents fear he might try to amend the country's constitution to run for a third term.
The lobbying registration paperwork came eight days after French media reported that a Paris appellate court heard a case to extradite Talon to Benin. A decision is expected in May.
Talon, a cotton magnate and former Yayi ally, has denied the charges against him, saying France won't extradite him. Beninese officials claim that Talon offered Yayi's niece, Zouberath Kora-Seke, and his doctor, Ibrahim Mama Cisse, $2 million if they were able to get the president to take poison instead of his medicine during an October trip to Brussels. Soumanou, the former Beninese minister of commerce, allegedly served as an intermediary.
"There is absolutely no proof, nothing confirms this charge," Talon said last week, according to Radio France Internationale. "This is imagination, manipulation. This is nonsense."
Mounira Al Hmoud contributed to this report.