Benin’s ‘king of chicken’ fined $302 mn over unpaid taxes

Cotonou (AFP) – A businessman in Benin known as “the king of chicken,” who ran favourably in last year’s presidential election, has been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for allegedly engaging in a multi-year tax evasion scheme, revenue officials said Friday.

Sebastien Ajavon is accused of having used several of his businesses to execute an elaborate tax dodge for three years and now allegedly owes 167 billion CFA francs ($302 million, 254 million euros).

“He is accused of organising tax evasion through several of his companies in the years 2014, 2015 and 2016,” Benin’s tax service told AFP.

Ajavon’s overall tax bill eclipses Benin’s per capita GDP of $2,200 and is more than one percent of the country’s overall domestic product, as measured in 2016.

The 52-year-old has so far declined to comment publicly on his massive tax bill, according to local media.

“From May to mid-August 2017, a team of five tax inspectors were embedded in Sebastien Ajavon’s companies,” a source close to the investigation said.

Ajavon’s supporters have accused authorities of persecuting the businessman-turned-politician, saying they “are seeking to put him prison by any means,” according to supporter Cyrille Hounsou.

Ralmeg Gandaho, a lawyer, said Ajavon could appeal the charge and choose to sue the government.

Ajavon, who made his fortune in the food industry, received almost a quarter of the vote in the first round of the 2016 presidential election, coming in third.

He then threw his weight behind fellow businessman and eventual winner, Patrice Talon, who has described Ajavon as a “great man” and a “great business operator”.

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Ajavon defines himself as a “self-made man” and has interests in the transport and media sectors, owning the Sikka TV station and radio Soleil FM.

This is not the first time he has faced legal troubles.

In October 2016, Ajavon was arrested after an 18-kilogramme (40 pounds) shipment of cocaine, with a street value of $16 million, was found in a container destined for one of his businesses.

He was released after eight days in detention but subsequently said he had been the victim of a plot to discredit him. Charges were dropped several months later.

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