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Saturday, 29 December, 2001, 02:03 GMT
Congolese ex-leader guilty of treason
Pascal Lissouba
Pascal Lissouba has dismissed the trial as a joke
Former Congolese President Pascal Lissouba has been convicted of treason and corruption, and sentenced to 30 years' hard labour by the high court in Brazzaville.

Mr Lissouba and four of his former ministers were convicted in absentia for their part in a $150m oil deal with the American company, Occidental Petroleum.

They were found to have sold the oil in 1993 at less than a quarter of the market price.

President Sassou Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville
President Sassou ousted Pascal Lissouba in 1997
The court proceedings lasted just two days and Mr Lissouba, who has lived in exile in London since being overthrown four years ago, has dismissed the trial as a joke.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Lissouba said he intended to return to Congo-Brazzaville soon, but would not specify when.

False pricing

The former prime ministers, Claude Antoine da Costa and Jacques Joachim Yhombi Opango, former finance minister Guila Mougounga Nkombo and former oil minister Benoit Koukebene were found guilty of embezzlement and sentenced to 20 years' hard labour.

The court dropped the charge of "misappropriation of public funds" against the four.

Charges denied

Prosecutors said Mr Lissouba and his ministers undersold Congolese oil for personal gains, saying that the proceeds never went into the public treasury.

Instead, they said, the money was partly transferred to a private Belgian bank account and partly used to finance the former president's election campaign.

Mr Lissouba denies this, saying the money earned from the deal was used to pay the salaries of civil servants and prepare for the elections.

On Thursday, the court dismissed cases against former finance minister Clement Mouamba and a former cabinet head, Claudine Munari.

The court ruled that the two had only carried out Mr Lissouba's orders and were innocent of wrongdoing themselves.

Pascal Lissouba was elected in 1992 but was driven out of Brazzaville in the civil war in 1997 by the forces of his rival, Denis Sassou-Nguessou, who is now president.

See also:

31 Jul 01 | Africa
Congo militias make money not war
11 Aug 00 | Africa
Congo Brazzaville's 'peace train'
06 Aug 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Congo's glimmer of hope
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