Ivorian minister sacked over toxic waste fund scandal

Adama Bictogo (r) of Ivory Coast Adama Bictogo had a high-profile in recent talks with coup leaders in Mali and Guinea-Bissau

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A minister in Ivory Coast has been sacked over his alleged role in the disappearance of millions of dollars meant for victims of pollution.

Adama Bictogo says he has not done anything wrong.

The case relates to a 2006 incident in which thousands became ill after toxic waste was dumped in Abidjan.

Multinational Trafigura, which shipped it, denied any wrongdoing but made a series of payments in relation to the case without admitting liability.

The company denies the waste could have caused the reported illnesses and said it was not directly involved in the dumping of the waste, saying it paid a local company to properly and legally dispose of the waste.

Police report leaked

Last year London-based rights group Amnesty International urged the new government of President Alassane Ouattara to investigate why victims of the pollution had not yet received their compensation.

Two civil protection workers pass by a bulldozer clearing a site polluted with toxic waste at the Akouedo district in Abidjan - 19 September 2006 Some 6,000 people who claimed to have been made ill by the dumping have yet to receive any payments

The BBC's John James in Abidjan says an investigation was then opened and found that about $8m (£5m) from the compensation fund had indeed disappeared.

An Ivorian police report handed over in February to judicial authorities recommended the opening of a case for fraud and misuse of funds - and named three men:

  • Claude Gohourou, an activist who said he represented the victims through his group, the National Coordination of Toxic Waste Victims of Ivory Coast
  • Adama Bictogo, who was brought in by the former Ivorian government as facilitator to ensure the victims received their compensation
  • Kone Chieck Oumar, the head of a major local football club, who was also involved in the mediation efforts.

According to the police report, which was leaked to the Ivorian media this week, Mr Bictogo received $1.2m for these mediation efforts from the fund.

The minister, who held the African regional integration portfolio in Mr Ouattara's government and has been the lead negotiator in regional efforts to resolve the crises caused by recent coups in Guinea-Bissau and Mali, denies any wrongdoing and says he can explain his role.

In 2007, Trafigura paid an estimated $160m to the Ivorian government in compensation.

Two years later it also agreed to pay $45m to individual claimants in an out-of-court settlement before the case came to trial in London - after a group of British lawyers, Leigh Day and Co, organised a class action involving 30,000 Ivorians.

This money paid out by Trafigura was transferred to an Ivorian bank account.

Just before it was due to be handed over to the claimants by the British lawyers, the Ivorian courts ruled in favour of Mr Gohourou, who said his group for victims should be given control of the money.

But some 6,000 people who claimed to have been made ill by the dumping of chemical waste have yet to receive any payments.

Mr Bictogo is the first minister to be sacked by President Ouattara since he took over power from Laurent Gbagbo in April 2011 after a five-month-long crisis following disputed presidential elections.

In July 2010, a Dutch court found Trafigura guilty of illegally exporting toxic waste from Amsterdam and concealing the nature of the cargo.

The oil trading company was fined 1m euros (£880,000) after its ship, the Probo Koala, transited Amsterdam with its cargo - which then went on to be unloaded in Ivory Coast.

The exact risk to humans from the waste has been heavily disputed.

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