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Can’t find Cameroon’s President? Try Geneva’s Intercontinental Hotel

GENEVA Wall Street Journal | Blinds were drawn at a back office of the Intercontinental Hotel one day last year, as a man known to staff as The General emptied a white cloth bag stuffed with euros. It was time to pay for one of the world’s longest-serving leaders.

For weeks, several former hotel employees recalled, the five-star hotel had been locked in a secret routine serving its best two customers, the first couple of an impoverished oil-exporting Central African country. Paul Biya, president of Cameroon since 1982, and his wife, Chantal, clock so much time on private visits to Switzerland that staff in the Intercontinental’s gilded corridors refer to them by simple code names: Him and Her.

“It’s like they are at home. They live there,” said one of three former senior employees who regularly witnessed the bill-payment ritual.

As with other employees, this person recalled signing a nondisclosure agreement concerning the details of Mr. Biya’s monthlong stays: “If the Cameroonians are not coming, the hotel will close.”

The Intercontinental Hotel said it wouldn’t comment on guests for confidentiality reasons. “Our employees are fully trained not to disclose any information,” a representative said.

World leaders dropping top dollar at luxury hotels isn’t by itself unusual. What distinguishes Mr. Biya’s Geneva getaways is the abundant time and hard cash the 85-year-old and his dozens-strong entourage spend here. The president has passed a cumulative four years on personal travels since 1982, the vast majority in Switzerland, according to flight data collected by the website Geneva Dictator Alert, and Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an investigative group specializing in anticorruption and organized crime that has tracked his travels. In some years he spent a third of the year out of his home country.

“He always pays in cash,” said Herbert Schott, a retired Intercontinental manager who first hosted Mr. Biya in 1969. “Next year he will mark 50 consecutive years of patronage. It’s a record.”

Mr. Schott welcomed a quarter-century’s worth of American presidents and once gave Ronald Reagan a mattress to replace the White House bedroom’s harsher one. But he said Mr. Biya was his best client. “He prefers to come to Geneva and sit down and nobody would bother him.”

“Lion Man,” as Mr. Biya’s supporters call him, is currently the world’s longest serving elected leader, if counting from his June 1975 arrival as prime minister, the same week McDonald’s Corp. introduced its drive-through. Since 1982, he has served as president. He is Africa’s highest-paid leader, with a $610,000 official salary annually, according to Africa Review, a periodical.

In Mr. Biya’s fourth decade in power, armed separatists are battling soldiers in Cameroon’s southwest, while Islamist terror group Boko Haram seizes villages and kidnaps children en masse in the northeast. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes in the past two years. Cameroonian migrants now represent the fourth largest nationality sailing into Greece.

Last month, Mr. Biya won another seven years in office, taking 71% of the vote in an election in which riot police dispersed protesters. In some areas, less than 5% of the population voted. No Western government sent observers.

“We love him, we voted for him and there is nothing new in his habits,” said Cameroon’s Communications Minister Issa Bakary Tchiroma in response to questions about Mr. Biya’s Geneva hotel stays. “We ask everyone, all foreigners, to respect the will of our sovereign people.”

Mr. Biya has rarely given interviews to foreign media in recent years.

In Geneva, the president reserves the entire Intercontinental’s 16th floor, with some 20 rooms and two corner suites overlooking the United Nations’ Europe headquarters and Mont Blanc, said ex-employees, former Cameroon officials, and hotel reservation records reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The staff haul armfuls of white flowers for his wife and fresh fruit platters—never cut, per presidential orders—for Mr. Biya, according to former hotel staff.

Mr. Biya’s trips cost millions of dollars apiece, said Christian Penda Ekoka, a longtime chief adviser to the president, turned opposition activist.

“He gets the money from Cameroon’s treasury” and pays in cash to keep the trips off books, said Mr. Ekoka, who used to be chief adviser to Mr. Biya and had access to trip details. “They want to avoid any trace.”

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11 comments

  1. SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

    The greatest paradox that defies all human logic is that “In Geneva, the president reserves the entire Intercontinental’s 16th floor, with some 20 rooms and two corner suites overlooking the United Nations’ Europe headquarters..”. However, the same President goes to China to beg for money for a so-called “Plan d’urgence” for Anglophones.

    The so-called “one and indivisible” LRC is indeed a sh*thole country with a sh*thole Dictator

  2. Malovsky Kompalov

    Rubbish write up.The world knows all these about Paul Biya yet after his fraudulent election victory messages of congratulations came pouring in from western countries.Who is fooling who.You want to incite Cameroonians to violence while you Europeans will sit back and laugh and steal the country’s resources?You better keep all these to yourself since you are part of the conspiracy to see Cameroonians enslaved by one individual.Democracy is being pushed into the dustbin in Cameroon while you so called developed countries sit and praise the dictator of Cameroon .

  3. He is protected by the Same Europeans who went to Libya to find and kill Quaddafi.
    Since 1969 in the same hotel yes 50yrs but come to the Equatorial forest of Cameroon you will find nothing remotely close to the intercontinental hotel.
    The intelligence of the whiteman has always been to treat a thousand Blackmen like kings and use the same Blackmen to kill and ravage millions of their own people with impunity.
    The collective IQ of the Equatorial African is very low, if not why not
    aspire to build your forest like Switzerland?
    How many presidents will go to Switzerland and improve their economy whilst people in the forest have no roads, portable water, electricity, hospitals, schools, employment etc
    Can any white president do this to his people?
    Who is fooling who?

  4. Cameroonians should grow up and out of the childish blame game!

    To kill a dog they first give it a bad name. To kill democracy, they label it “modele importee”. Yet the local brew gives more sleepless nights than ever. If imported models are so bad, why not extend their banning to wines, foods,cars, three-piece suits and others?

  5. ” intelligence of the white man has always been to treat a thousands black man as kings and use the same black men to kill and revage millions of their own people with impunity”, right on [email protected] unfortunately the blame still on us be the most ignorant race on planet earth to allowed our people be treated like crap by the white man in dis way for centuries and yet can’t collectively stand up put a stop too as a continent, race or country good example will be dis corrupt moronic dictator has done very little to the majority of people too alleviate them from poverty, but when the moment arrived for the people to collectively stand up against dis evildoers ruining their lives for decades they’ll bring petty stupid reason like tribes, ethnicity, etc not to fight against the evil as a people

  6. The local press in Cameroon, has blantantly refused to tell its readers, about Biya
    and `his habits`. When finally he will leave that chair, let the press be hinted before
    hand, that Cameroonians will not welcome or entertain any write-ups. That would
    be good as trash. Really useless, considering, that this is good time enough for the
    people to know issues and be able to change that country. It would be same as selling
    after the market.

  7. hahaha it still baffles me after reading such articles.biya no longer spends at the intercontinental hotel, should know he owns it by now..as it’s his home and the unity palace is his work place.hehehe

  8. SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

    “Masked Pro-Biya Gunmen Busted Trying to Recreate Chibok
    WASHINGTON, DC, 5 November 2018 – Masked gunmen launched a series of terrorist attacks Sunday night and Monday morning in four towns of Ambazonia (formerly Cameroon’s English-speaking regions), kidnapping 81 students and a teacher from a boarding school, killing two primary school children on their way to school, amputating fingers from the hands of several plantation workers and lynching a civil servant on camera in a crowded street Monday morning.”

    • SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

      “The kidnapping of the students was ostensibly aimed at reenacting the kidnapping in April 2014 by Boko Haram of 276 Chibok Girls in Borno State (Nigeria) and, along with the other gruesome attacks and cold-blooded murders, signaled anew the extent to which the colonial regime of Mr. Paul Biya is willing to go in a desperate effort to convince the international community to list Ambazonia’s Independence Restoration Quest as a terrorist movement.”

  9. Food as Medicine

    At a certain age and with all the resources inhand, who would nt be changing blood regularly to cheat nature? It has been allerged that some leaders do so quite a lot in Switzerland. Does he?