World News

Benin businessman sentenced in absentia to 20 years for drug trafficking

COTONOU (Reuters) - Prominent Benin businessman and former presidential candidate Sebastien Ajavon has been sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison in connection with a haul of 18 kg (40 pounds) of cocaine found in a shipping container in 2016.

Charges had been dropped in 2016 against Ajavon, who ran for president that year and currently lives in France. But they were later taken up by a different court.

Ajavon has long denied charges of drug trafficking, dismissing them as a political hit job by President Patrice Talon, who defeated him in the 2016 election.

Ajavon’s legal team on Thursday evening described the ruling as a “premeditated decision” that it said it would fight in court.

Maritime police discovered the haul at the port of Cotonou in a container destined for one of Ajavon’s companies.

West Africa has for over a decade been a transit point for Latin American cocaine bound for Europe. Improved maritime policing in recent years has helped reduce the volume of cocaine passing through the region.

Reporting by Allegresse Sasse; Writing by Edward McAllister and Peter Cooney