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Family of Benin poison suspect denies confession

Tuesday - 10/30/2012, 10:55am  ET

By KRISTA LARSON
Associated Press

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - The family of a man charged with attempting to poison the president of Benin says authorities are trying to force the suspect to sign a confession by keeping him in a tiny cell without food.

Moudjaidou Soumanou, a former trade minister, was one of three people arrested earlier this month and charged with conspiracy and attempted murder.

The suspects are accused of plotting to swap President Boni Yayi's medicine with a toxic substance in exchange for millions of dollars. The plot allegedly unraveled when one of the three suspects told her sister who then alerted authorities.

Soumanou's family said he is now being held in a 1-square meter (yard) cell without access to food or daylight. Family members also have not been able to bring thyroid medication to the 53-year-old.

His son-in-law denied the prosecutor's assertion that Soumanou already had confessed to involvement in the attempted poisoning.

"He told us, `Look I did not confess to anything. I have nothing to confess,'" said Franck Gomez, Soumanou's son-in-law, who lives in Washington. "One thing he said was that if he didn't confess, they would kill him."

Government officials in Benin did not immediately return calls seeking comment about the case.

Last week, Prosecutor Justin Gbenameto told journalists that Soumanou had picked up the drugs that were intended to poison the president at the Cotonou airport on Oct. 19.

Authorities allege Soumanou then gave them to the president's doctor, Dr. Ibrahim Mama Cisse, who also has been arrested in connection with the case.

The prosecutor charges that the doctor and the president's niece each were promised a payment of 1 billion CFA ($1.9 million) if they carried out the poisoning.

Soumanou's family, though, said he is simply caught in the middle of a dispute between the president and businessman Patrice Talon, whom authorities also have implicated in the case.

Talon is the main shareholder of a company called SODECO, which Soumanou has headed since 2008.

In a recent interview with Radio France Internationale, Talon said he had become the president's "Enemy No. 1." Authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Talon, who said he would respond to the accusations "but without putting my life in danger."

"What is surprising is not the fact they're accusing me of an umpteenth coup attempt against Boni Yayi," he told RFI. "What is surprising is the extremely ludicrous nature of this scenario."

Yayi was first elected in 2006 in a landslide vote, and won re-election in 2011 in the tiny West African nation.

In 2007, a spokesman said the president's convoy had come under attack, with assailants firing machine guns. Yayi was not harmed in that incident, officials said.

___

Associated Press writer Virgile Ahissou in Cotonou, Benin contributed to this report.


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)