On June 25, two senior officials from the Italian-Swiss container shipping firm MSC were apprehended and detained by the Beninese police as part of an anti-drug operation conducted by the country's authorities. Political issues and internal police rivalry complicate the case.
Two Frenchmen are scheduled to appear before a Beninese court on 15 July for possible involvement in drug trafficking: Arnaud Jobard, who is in charge of operations at Bénin Terminal, a Bolloré Africa Logistics subsidiary that operates the container terminal in the port of Cotonou, and Michel Aizan, who is in charge of the Swiss-Italian conglomerate's Cotonou operations. The two men were detained on 25 June, including a number of their coworkers, as part of a police raid in Benin. Three other Bolloré executives and one additional MSC officer were detained as well. Commissioner Constant Bade, the head of the Beninese anti-drug police, and businessman Séraphin Yéto were also detained. MSC declined to comment on "specific incidents" for its part.
Most of those detained had already been interrogated by the police but the issue suddenly took off on 20 June. The case originated on 18 May with the capture of 150 kg of cocaine in a container of sugar imported from Brazil via Spain. It was part of a consignment of 20 containers headed for Séraphin Yeto's business Sonimex. Smugglers frequently conceal narcotics in containers that are just crossing through Europe on their way to Africa, since they stay on board and are not normally examined by European customs officers. The containers passed through all the inspections at Cotonou, and it was only on the basis of an anonymous tip that they were opened and the cocaine was discovered and eventually seized.
Commissioner Constant Bade, head of the police drug trafficking department OCERTID, was appointed in charge of the investigation and interrogated all the stakeholders involved - shipping firms, forwarders, purchasers, and dealers. The inquiry lasted a month and finally, on 20 June, the commissioner released the containers to the business to whom they were scheduled to be transported. The day before, however, the opposition Frère Hounvi blog, which has a significant following in Benin and is fiercely critical of President Patrice Talon and his government, broadcast an audio message about the little-known event and accused the government of involvement. This resulted in the surge of arrests carried out by the police.
This political fight was immediately exacerbated, however, by the competition between the different Beninese police forces. Bade was appointed head of the investigations at the last minute, just as he was about to travel for the Central African Republic, in which he was supposed to take up one of the three roles of police commander allotted to Benin in the UN's MINUSCA peacekeeping force. Aware as he was that the inquiry may have implications for the all-powerful UMCC, which had let the containers enter into the port without examining them, Bade attempted to engage as many police units as possible in the course of the investigation. These measures proved out to be insufficient, however, since he was himself arrested on 25 June.
The file on the issue is so complicated that so far none of the lawyers representing the people under investigation has yet been allowed access to it. The French, Swiss and Italian consulate offices are attempting to obtain access to their citizens ahead of their court hearings.