A settling of bad accounts

30 November 1999 by ANDRE-MICHEL ESSOUNGOU

“Counsel Degli has committed acts of dishonesty, fraud and deception. These serious breaches of professional ethics justify his withdrawal from the case.” This was the unequivocal tone of the decision taken on 27 October by the administration of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) to dismiss the lawyer representing General Gratien Kabiligi. The radical decision was taken following an ICTY enquiry, which on the face of it looks extremely damaging for the Togolese lawyer. 

The facts appear to speak for themselves. In August 1997, Jean Yaovi Degli, a young and brilliant figure in the Togolese bar, and political refugee in France, was appointed lead counsel for General Kabiligi, one of the four defendants in the ICTR’s flagship trial against high-ranking military leaders (including Colonel Bagosora) . In January 1998, he began working with fellow Togolese Sylvia Olympio, who claimed to be lawyer from the Paris bar. In February 2002, Olympio was promoted from legal assistant to co-counsel on the case. By April 2003, the ICTR had paid the team a total of 380,266.90 USD in fees and legal expenses carried out on behalf of their client. The money was sent directly to Sylvia Olympio. However, that same month, in a letter sent to the ICTR registrar, Olympio revealed that she had never actually been a lawyer, and had forged her Paris bar membership certificate. Initially, she claimed that she had acted alone, stressing that Counsel Degli had been completely unaware of everything. But after an investigation by the UN’s Internal Oversight Office she changed her story.

“Swindling business”

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