Fifteen of Ivory Coast’s top former cocoa and coffee officials were sentenced to prison and handed heavy fines yesterday, reflecting an effort to clean up years of corruption.
Numerous regulators from cocoa and coffee industry agencies were arrested in 2008, accused of embezzlement, abuse of power and misuse of public funds and other charges over a period of six years — among them was head of the state’s Fund for the Development and Promotion of Coffee and Cocoa Planters (FDPCC), Henry Kassi Amouzou. The former regulators, widely referred to as the “cocoa barons” were given 20 years prison time and ordered to repay approximately $138 million USD in compensation, according to a Reuters report this morning.
Ivory Coast remains the world’s top cocoa producer, and at the peak of its independence in the 1970s, it was the world’s third biggest coffee producer (primarily robusta), behind only Brazil and Colombia. While coffee remains its second biggest export, the industry has been struggling for years, most recently suffering from political and civil unrest carried over from infamously controversial 201o presidential election, in which former president Laurent Gbagbo lost but refused to leave office. Gbagbo, who initially ordered the investigation into corruption among the “coffee barons,” attempted to nationalize the coffee and cocoa industries in 2011, further hampering coffee production and exports.