Account of arrest of suspected mastermind in Cameroonian journalist’s murder

Reporters Without Borders | Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has compiled an account of how controversial Cameroonian businessman Jean-Pierre Amougou Belinga and two other high-profile persons were arrested early today (6 February) in connection with outspoken radio journalist Martinez Zogo’s murder on 17 January.

The preparations began shortly after midnight at gendarmerie headquarters in the capital, Yaoundé. For the next few hours, more than 100 gendarmes were briefed about the upcoming operation led by Jean-Pierre Otoulou, the colonel in charge of the investigation into Martinez Zogo’s murder.

The gendarmes were then divided into three groups and, at 5 a.m., each group set off for the home of one of the three suspects. About 30 minutes later, the biggest group, consisting of around 50 men, took up concealed positions around the villa that is the home of Belinga, who – according to the initial investigation – is strongly suspected of being one of the instigators of Zogo’s murder.

They waited until 6 a.m. to launch their assault because any arrest before that time is illegal under Cameroonian law. The ten armed men guarding Belinga’s home initially resisted but they ended up being disarmed and their phones were confiscated. The gendarmes then rang the front-doorbell but Belinga did not respond. They finally broke down his front-door and the door to his bedroom. As he was being led away, he told his wife not to worry.

Before the gendarmes broke down his door, Belinga had time to call his father-in-law, Col. Raymond Etoundi Nsoé, who is in charge of his personal security and is a former presidential guard commander. But Nsoé was also one of the three suspects for whom arrest warrants had been issued. He had gone out jogging very early and was finally arrested when he arrived at Belinga’s villa. The third person arrested a dawn was Bruno Bidjang, the head of Vision 4, the media group owned by Belinga.

What line of defence will be taken by Belinga, who is now held by the defence ministry’s investigators? Will he admit to his alleged role in the murder? His version of events is eagerly awaited given the all the evidence amassed against him during the investigation, which includes a statement by the man who has confessed to leading the unit that murdered Zogo, as RSF reported late last week.

Around 20 members of Cameroon’s General Directorate for External Investigations (DGRE) have been arrested in recent days for their alleged role in Zogo’s murder, including both its boss and its head of operations, Justin Danwe. RSF has been told that there is considerable evidence that the DGRE placed Zogo under surveillance, and then abducted, tortured and murdered him.

In his statement, which RSF has seen, Danwe alleged that Belinga called justice minister Laurent Esso at the very moment that Zogo was being tortured in Belinga’s presence inside a partially constructed building owned by Belinga. Esso and Belinga are known to be close. The gendarmes were furthermore surprised to find Belinga’s home being guarded by prison guards, who are supposed to guard Cameroun’s prisons, and who are under the command of none other than the justice minister, Esso.

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