Why the Swiss haven’t stopped Cameroon’s dictator from lavishly staying in Geneva

Ismail Akwei January 09, 2019
Cameroon President Paul Biya and his wife Chantal Biya arrive in Geneva for the Summit of French-speaking Nations in October 2010 -- Photo: Swissinfo

Cameroonian leader Paul Biya is known for living a notoriously lavish lifestyle in Geneva where he has unofficially created a seat of government in a 5-star hotel.

The 85-year-old has spent a lot of his time as president at the Hotel Intercontinental which has a great view of the Swiss Alps. Several former hotel managers have told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that the hotel reserves the entire sixteenth floor for Biya and his entourage who sometimes take an extra 30 rooms on other floors.

Why the Swiss haven’t stopped Cameroon’s dictator from lavishly staying in Geneva
View of the Intercontinental Hotel — Photo: swisshoteldata.ch

According to an early 2018 report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Biya spent at least 1,645 days on private visits abroad since he came to power in 1982 costing the Cameroonian taxpayers $65 millio, exclusive of food, private jet and entertainment.

The OCCRP estimates, which were based on publicly available hotel room prices, state that Biya spends around $40,000 per day for one stay at the hotel with his entourage. Biya’s former chief advisor, Christian Penda Ekoka, told the WSJ that the money was paid in cash and came directly from the country’s treasury.

Why the Swiss haven’t stopped Cameroon’s dictator from lavishly staying in Geneva
Cameroonians demonstrating in front of the hotel in Geneva — Photo: Cameroon Intelligence Report

Cameroonians have demonstrated against the expenditure of the president in Switzerland which has taken a toll on the country’s economy and development. The Northwest and Southwest regions of the country have been protesting against marginalization and inadequate development.

Meanwhile, Biya continued his governance from Switzerland and ordered the military to quell dissent, a move that added to the long list of problems facing the country including corruption, poverty, weak institutions and dictatorship.

These developments prompted Swiss news site, swissinfo.ch, to ask why Switzerland is not acting on Paul Biya’s lavish stay in the country while his people continue to face hardships.

“Foreign heads of state can – in a private capacity – stay in Switzerland without the federal authorities being formally informed or involved in the visit,” swissinfo.ch quotes the foreign ministry in a report.

The ministry said Biya enjoys diplomatic immunity as a head of state. “As for the members of his entourage, the statute they may be granted in Switzerland is examined on a case by case basis, according to the aim of the visit and the function they perform,” the ministry added.

According to Marc Guéniat, Senior Researcher at Swiss NGO Public Eye, Biya has the right to travel to Geneva as a legitimate head of state, but “what is problematic is that he spends so much time at taxpayers’ expense, taking over an entire floor of a 5-star hotel,” he told swissinfo.ch.

Why the Swiss haven’t stopped Cameroon’s dictator from lavishly staying in Geneva
Photo: erasmus.gr

For analyst, Daniel Warner, who is a retired former deputy head of the Geneva Institute of International and Development Studies, “Unless he’s on trial somewhere, it’s a political question and a judgment question, and as a neutral country what do you expect the Geneva or Swiss authorities to do? If he’s wanted for a crime, that would be something different, but there is no formal legal process against him.”

The report further expatiated on why huge amounts of cash are allowed in Geneva by Paul Biya stating that Switzerland does not automatically require a declaration when importing large amounts of cash of at least CHF10,000 ($10,000). However, Swiss customs officials can request information on the money if there is suspicion of money laundering or terrorist financing.

It seems Paul Biya will continue his lavish stay in Geneva unabated until the end of his regime which is the longest-ruling non-royal government dispensation in the world.

Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: January 10, 2019


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