Benin's ambassador to the United States has fired back at an Arent Fox client who is accused of plotting to assassinate the West African nation's president and overthrow its government.
In a May 7 news release, Benin Ambassador Cyrille Oguin said Beninese businessman Patrice Talon hired the Washington office of Arent to "damage" the reputation of the country and its president, Thomas Boni Yayi. The dispatch came less than a month after Arent filed lobbying registration paperwork with Congress to promote "respect for the rule of law in Benin" on behalf of Talon, who has lived in Paris since Beninese authorities accused him and three others of planning to poison the president.
Oguin asked for restraint as Talon's case proceeds. This month, a Paris appellate court is expected to rule on whether to extradite Talon.
"Therefore, any parallel activity intended to affect the credibility of Justice and Benin would seriously undermine the ongoing proceedings and is considered as null and void," Oguin said. "The Government of the Republic of Benin invites all its partners to trust fully Benin's justice to hold a fair trial."
Bennett in April 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.
"That's not the direction we want to see African countries move in," Bennett said.
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. Former Benin minister of commerce Moudjaidou Soumanou allegedly served as an intermediary.
"There is absolutely no proof, nothing confirms this charge," Talon said last month, according to Radio France Internationale. "This is imagination, manipulation. This is nonsense."
The Beninese justice 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 State Department report in 2012 on human rights practices.
In its lobbying registration filing for Talon, Arent said it also is pushing for "equitable and transparent judicial procedures" for an unnamed "Benin citizen imprisoned without bail in Benin." The citizen is Soumanou, according to Leval.
Oguin said Benin meets human rights standards.
"The Constitution and the laws of Benin prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention," he said. "Contravening either of these provisions will be condemned by the Constitutional Court. The Government of the Republic of Benin is internationally recognized for its commitment to good governance and its determination to fight corruption in its various forms."