FULTON, NY – A list of 23 leaders of Ivorian cocoa and coffee industry groups are facing charges of alleged embezzlement and fraud that stem from a judicial investigation in the Ivory Coast.
The investigation was spearheaded by Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo in October, following allegations of the embezzlement of more than $235 million that was meant to help develop the sector.
In March, officials from the Ivory Coast — including the country’s attorney general — were in Fulton to conduct an investigation at New York Chocolate and Confections Company as part of that inquiry.
“They were here doing fact finding,” L. Michael Treadwell, executive director of Operation Oswego County, explained at the time. Treadwell said the attorney general’s group included judges, assistants and representatives of various legal groups.
The results of the investigation in the Ivory Coast started to unfold earlier this month. Published on a French-speaking news site, the list released June 12 by prosecutor Raymond Fehou Tchimou included several familiar names in Oswego County.
Most recognizable locally were Jean-Claude Amon, 62, and YallÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â© AgbrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©, 58, of New York Chocolate and Confections Company. Amon was one of the first to appear in Fulton as New York Chocolate took over the former Nestle plant in 2004. He served as CEO of the company while AgbrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â© served as treasurer.
During a press conference at the Fulton plant in October, both Amon and AgbrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â© vehemently denied allegations of embezzlement that were brought against company officials by a minority partner.
Also included on the list were Lucien TapÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â© Do, 57, president of the Coffee and Cocoa Bourse (BCC) marketing body, and AngÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©line Kili, 44, president of the Regulatory and Control Fund (FRC), and Firmin Kouakou, 55, director general of the FRC. Okaigni Okaigni, 47, of New York Chocolate, was also named.
After the list was released, President Gbagbo told Reuters, “There will be prosecutions and imprisonments this time.”
“These structures have been badly run,” Gbagbo said. “Those who ran the sector have profited from it.”
President Gbagbo ordered the investigation following allegations in the Ivory Coast media of the embezzlement of more than $234 million that was meant to help develop the sector.
“Corruption never ends but we have to fight to reduce its effects and scope and I’ll do everything I can to achieve that,” Gbagbo said.
Having received some information about the arrests, Treadwell said that he his hopeful that the activities in the Ivory Coast will benefit the Fulton plant.
“I am not taking this as anything negative against the New York Chocolate plant,” Treadwell said.
“If there was abuse going on… having those responsible removed enhances the potential for the right people in the Ivory Coast to be put in place to move forward with the project,” Treadwell added.
Treadwell noted that there have been recent talks of the plant’s future with President Gbagbo.
Specifically regarding the charges against Amon and AgbrÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â©, Treadwell had little to say.
“If they were involved in (the embezzlement allegations), we would obviously know why it has taken so long to move this project forward,” Treadwell said.
Treadwell noted that he will be among many watching for information as the details unfold.
“If there was corruption, it is being pursued and… (officials in the Ivory Coast) will take the necessary legal action,” he added. “I can’t really say anything else. … Hopefully it will allow the right players to get involved with the project to move everything forward.”
Paul Bankes Jr., NY3C’s Philadelphia-based attorney with the firm Whiteman, Bankes & Chebot LLC, said in October 2007 that the embezzlement allegations that came forward against company officials were false. He could not be reached Wednesday.