- The government of Benin has put on trial 27 of its own judges on charges of embezzling millions of dollars of state funds. The entire justice system of Benin is believed to be rotten, according to reports.
The judges form part of a group of 99 court and Finance Ministry officials charged with illegally pocketing more than US$ 15 million of state funds over a period of four years.
- The case appears to indicate that the justice system in this small West African country is rotten to the core, the UN agency IRIN reports. The defendants include 45 court clerks and judges from 12 of Benin's 13 district courts.
The accused, who have been in detention since December 2001, made brief court appearances on Tuesday and Wendesday during which no plea was entered for them.
Proceedings are due to resume on 5 February and the trial is expected to take about three months.
In 2000, Finance Ministry officials began looking into the suspected misuse of state funds which had been earmarked for investigations and judicial inquiries.
They exposed a corruption ring which allowed judges and magistrates to order their accomplices in the Treasury to fraudulently release state funds to them.
The investigators concluded that more than eight billion franc CFA, the equivalent of US$1 5 million, had been siphoned out of government coffers in this way between 1996 and 2000.
The successful organisation of series of free and fair elections in the 1990s cast Benin as a model of democracy in West Africa.
However, the civil service remains riddled with corruption and many Beninese are sceptical that this high profile trial will stop the rot.
- It is hard to believe that the (judges of this) court will try their colleagues in an impartial manner of a case of embezzlement, one man watching the trial proceedings on Wednesday told IRIN.
However the government insists that the trial will be transparent. "Everything has been done to ensure that the trial takes place in total transparency," State Prosecutor Severine Lawson told IRIN.
- No one is above the law, Justice Minister Dorothe Sossa said. "These judges have broken the law and they will be tried like any other individual who breaks the law”.
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