BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo – A court convicted former President Pascal Lissouba on treason and corruption charges Friday, sentencing him ini absentia to 30 years hard labor.
Lissouba's trial began Thursday at the High Court in the capital, Brazzaville. Judges deliberated for six hours before handing down the verdict late Friday.
The charges of treason and misappropriation of funds relate to Lissouba's role in a $150 million oil agreement his government signed in 1993 with the American company Occidental Petroleum.
Lissouba is accused of selling off the oil at extremely low prices, in part for personal gain. He has denied the charges, saying the money was used to pay civil servants.
Lissouba has lived in exile in London since being overthrown in 1997 by current President Denis Sassou-Nguesso several weeks before a presidential election in which both men were to run.
The court also ordered Lissouba to pay a $33 million fine.
Four of Lissouba's ministers, all living in exile, were each sentenced to 20 years hard labor.
On Thursday, the court dismissed cases against two other officials — former Finance Minister Clement Mouamba and Claudine Munari, a former head of Lissouba's Cabinet.
The court ruled that the two, who both testified at the trial, only carried out Lissouba's orders.
Munari testified that Lissouba was under pressure to sell the oil at any price — in large part to pay 10 months of salary arrears to the Central African nation's civil servants.
Lissouba has lived in exile in London since being overthrown in 1997 by President Denis Sassou-Nguesso several weeks before a presidential election in which both men were to run.
The overthrow sparked fighting between militias loyal to him and Sassou-Nguesso's regime, which also faced fighters loyal to Bernard Kolelas, a former prime minister.
Hostilities ended in 1999, when cease-fire agreements were signed by all sides.
Lissouba has already been tried once in absentia. In 1999, a court in Brazzaville sentenced him to 20 years in prison for plotting to assassinate Sassou-Nguesso. Kolelas, too, was tried in absentia, and sentenced to death.