Cameroon’s special criminal court: an appraisal of its first decade of existence

Published date27 December 2021
Date27 December 2021
Subject MatterAccounting & finance,Financial risk/company failure,Financial crime
AuthorAvitus Agbor Agbor
Cameroons special criminal
court: an appraisal of its rst
decade of existence
Avitus Agbor Agbor
Faculty of Law, North-West University, Makeng Campus, Makeng, South Africa
Purpose In total, 10 years since the establishment of the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in Cameroon to deal
with a specic kind of corruption,one may wonder whether any achievements have been made so far in fullling
its mandate and also assuaging the tense and toxic perception that the Court was established as an arsenal to
witch-hunt political opponents. This study aims to look into the work done so far inthis regard, and makes an
assessment as to whether any accomplishments have been made in the rst decade of its establishment.
Design/methodology/approach This paper takes an evidence-basedapproach in seeking answers to
what accomplishments, if any, have been made by the Court, explores the notion of corruption within
Cameroons legislative and institutional landscape prior to the establishmentof the Court and looks into the
proles of those who have been indictedby the SCC for that crime; the amounts that were misappropriated
and for which they were convicted; the sentences imposed. It identies some outstanding cases: where the
amounts misappropriated exceeded a threshold and asks the question of what made it possible for these
individualsto misappropriate such huge sums of money?
Findings The inconsistenciesand irrationality in the sentencing are a few ndings made. Added to those
is the timing of the establishment of the Court which, as most have perceived, is a political witch-hunting
aimed at bringing credibilityto a failed regime, as well as deal with a few political irresponsibleswhowere
once the presidentsbuddies.
Research limitations/implications This research unravels key insights into the functioning of the
SCC. It advancesthe knowledge thereon and adds to the literature on corruptionin Cameroon.
Practical implications The establishment of the SCC is commendable.However, as it deals with but a
particular kindof corruption, it might be necessary to rethink the need of additionalinstitutional mechanisms
that have specializedjurisdiction to deal with the different kinds of corruption in Cameroon.
Social implications The paper highlights the entrenched nature of corruption in the social fabrics of
Cameroonian society, and exposes the need for a much holisticapproach in dealing with corruption, as the
SCC offers but oneinstitutional mechanism toward that direction.
Originality/value This paper, giventhe issues discussed therein, and considering the dearth of literature
on the topic, advances the literature on the SCC in particular and the problem of endemic corruption in
Cameroonin general.
Keywords Misappropriation of public funds, Special criminal court, Political will, Socio-economic,
Cultural and political Development, Albatross affair
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
In Cameroonsght against endemic corruption perpetrated by senior state ofcials, the
year 2021 is extremely signicant for three importantreasons as follows: rst, it marks the
silver jubilee anniversary of the amendment to the 1996 Constitution which entrenched a
clause that required specic public ofcialsto declare their assets prior to occupying public
ofce, whether by appointment or election [1]. Second, it is the 15th anniversary since the
adoption of a law that required specicofce-bearers to declare their assets prior to and
criminal court
Journalof Financial Crime
Vol.30 No. 1, 2023
pp. 221-237
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/JFC-11-2021-0243
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
after leaving the said ofce [2]. Third, it is the rst decade since the enactmentof a law that
set up a Special Criminal Court (hereafter the SCC [3]), with exclusive jurisdiction to try
individuals suspected of havingmisappropriated public property or funds of at least FCFA
50,000,000 [4]. The former, as has been seen since1996, was never enforced at any time since
it went operational. The latter added Cameroon to the list of countries that established an
anti-corruption special court. The creationof a specialized court to deal with a specic kind
of corruption, undoubtedly, altered the judicial landscape in Cameroon [5]. Furthermore, it
stirred excitement, anxietyand controversy as to who would be docked therein and for what
amounts. Another important worry was whether the stolen funds would be recovered or a
term of imprisonment would sufce for grave economic crimes against the state, and the
betrayal of the trust investedin the occupants of such public ofces.
Taking an evidence-based approach,this paper examines some key aspects of the work
that has so far been done by the SCC, since itsestablishment. In this regard, the judgments
rendered by the SCC are very valuable as theydo provide vital details on the crimes (such as
the prole of the accused individuals;how they participated in their planning, preparation or
commission; the amounts misappropriated; the verdict of the Court; the sentences imposed
and any orders such as restitution and costs of litigation). The judgmentsalso do constitute
an important source of primary data. Thesedata help in building the narrative on what the
SCC has done so far in terms of indicting suspected individuals,especially in addressing the
foregoing aspects. The discussion is necessaryas it provides the background against which
an assessment of the SCC can be made. In doing these, the paper provides answers to key
questions as follows: rst, looking at the operations, who of the political elites have been
indicted for the offense of misappropriation of public funds? Second, how has the SCC
helped in the recovery of the misappropriatedfunds? Finally, against toxic political climate,
worsened by prevalent skepticism about national anti-corruption institutions, what
accounts for the successful prosecution and convictions of the political elite an
accomplishmentwhich, when seen from a comparative perspective, isoutstanding?
To provide answers to those three questions, the paper is structured as follows: a
synoptic discussionon the corruption conundrum in Cameroon is presented, touching on the
legal and institutional landscape that precededthe establishment of the SCC. The narrative
on this part is aimed at exposing theentrenched nature of corruption in Cameroon, and how
efforts to combat corruption have been ineffective and unsuccessful due to a series of
factors, some of which include the absenceof the requisite political will from the top political
elite and political interference wielded by the same political elite in the operations of law
enforcement personnel and institutions. That is, followed by a discussion on the creation of
the SCC and key aspects of itsoperations, as its establishment. In this part, the paper draws
some attention to the proles of the accused individuals; the amounts of monies
misappropriated by them and the sentencesimposed on them. Looking at the amounts and
number of individuals who were jointly indicted,this part highlights some notorious cases.
The last part assesses the decade-long existence of the SCC: it reects on whether the SCC
has been instrumental and successful in recovering stolen assets; constructing a new
national psyche on the prosecutionof this kind of corruption; and whether its success so far
is due to the infusion of the much needed political will which was conspicuouslyabsent from
previous institutions that were put in place (Agbor, 2019;Ankamah and Khoda, 2018;
Brinkerhoff, 2000;Fantaye,2004).
2. Cameroon and the corruption conundrum
Scholars and practitioners across academic and professional disciplines concur on the
ravaging effects of corruption on socio-economic, cultural and development (Al-Sadig, 2009;

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