Press Freedom Fears After West Africa Leaks Reporter Convicted in Benin

Journalist Ignace Sossou, inset, has been convicted under Benin's new digital media laws.

A journalist who revealed offshore accounts and shell companies of a corporate titan and French trade representative has been fined and given a suspended jail sentence by a court in Benin, West Africa.

On August 12, the criminal court in Benin’s capital, Cotonou, found reporter Ignace Sossou guilty of publishing “false news” under the country’s draconian online press law about French-born businessman Jean-Luc Tchifteyan.

The court ordered Sossou to pay $846, ten times the average monthly salary of a journalist in Benin.

Sossou’s lawyer denied the charges in court and will appeal the decision.

“These articles were published with our full support and we support our reporter,” said Paul Arnaud, director of Sossou’s publication, BeninWebTV.

Sossou was a member of the award-winning 2018 West Africa Leaks investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and reporters from 11 countries in the region. It is the region’s largest-ever collaboration of investigative journalists.

Sossou revealed that Tchifteyan, who runs one of Benin’s largest supermarkets, owned a Panama shell company with a Swiss bank account to receive $150,000 a year in commissions from suppliers.

ICIJ, which also published an investigation about Tchifteyan’s Panama company, spoke to a Benin tax official in 2018 who said: “Of course something like this is going to interest us.”

Tchifteyan did not respond to ICIJ’s repeated requests for comment via email, telephone or WhatsApp. The supermarket magnate, who owns other Benin businesses and is an unpaid trade adviser appointed by the French government, also did not respond to BeninWebTV prior to publication.

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