A former rebel leader and presidential candidate in Ivory Coast’s next elections, Guillaume Soro could face life imprisonment over an alleged coup plot that involved amassing weapons, said the country’s public prosecutor on Thursday.
An arrest warrant for Soro was issued by Ivorian authorities on Monday pushing him to call off a planned homecoming after months overseas.
The warrant is likely to increase tensions in the country ahead of October 2020 election which is expected to test Ivory Coast’s stability after two civil wars since the turn of the century.
A recording made by Ivorian intelligence services, in which Soro could allegedly be heard planning a coup was played during a news conference by prosecutor Richard Adou.
“The penalty for attempting a plot against state security is a life sentence,” Adou said, adding that the investigation was ongoing.
Spokeswoman Affoussy Bamaba Lamime, also Soro’s lawyer did not deny the authenticity of the recording presented by prosecutors but claimed it was from 2017 and was incomplete.
According to a video she posted on Facebook on Thursday, she said that Soro’s team would release a full version of the audio soon.
Soro is believed to be in Europe however his exacts whereabouts are unclear. He has denounced the case against him as being politically motivated.
“It is only in a dictatorship that an arrest warrant is issued against an electoral candidate,” he said on Twitter on Wednesday.
According to the prosecutor, so far 15 people have been arrested in connection with the investigation which includes money-laundering and amassing illegal weapons.
“Searches of homes of the accused parties, including Soro, uncovered arms such as anti-tank missiles, RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), Kalashnikovs, and ammunition,” he said.
Soro led rebels to oust the then President Laurent Gbagbo in 2002 but failed. His forces swore in President Alassane Ouattara during a civil war that followed the 2010 elections where both Gbagbo and Ouattara claimed victory.
Soro retains the loyalty of many former rebel commanders who hold senior positions in the army. He served for several years as speaker of the National Assembly but has since fallen out with Ouattara.