ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar -- A court in Madagascar has convicted two French citizens of having plotted a failed coup against President Andry Rajoelina and sentenced them to 10 years and 20 years of forced labor.
At the end of a 10-day trial in Antananarivo, the capital, Paul Rafanoharana was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday. Frenchman Philippe François was given a 10-year prison sentence.
The two Frenchmen were arrested in July and accused, along with 18 other defendants, of endangering state security, criminal association and conspiracy to assassinate the president.
The two belonged to “a criminal organization” that was seeking to “carry out an attack against President Rajoelina” as shown by “emails, arms and money, seized" by authorities, said state prosecutor Arsène Rabe. The plot was called “Apollo 21,” said the prosecution.
The two men pleaded not guilty and their defense has denounced the trial and unfair with “numerous procedural flaws.”
“We are truly appalled by this verdict,” said Arlette Rafanomadio, one of Rafanoharana’s lawyers who was reached by telephone.
“We did not expect such a heavy sentence because there is no hard evidence to convict our client," she said. "We are going to appeal and we are studying possible applications to international bodies.”
Rafanoharana, a former officer of the French gendarmerie and a graduate of the Saint-Cyr military school, was briefly an adviser to Rajoelina in 2011.
François, also a graduate of Saint-Cyr and a retired colonel of the French army, had worked in Chad before arriving in Madagascar almost two years ago. Francois and Rafanoharana were partners in an investment company, Tsarafirst, which bought and sold gold.
During the trial, Rafanoharana did not deny that he imagined a way to “neutralize” the president's entourage, but he denied that he plotted to kill the president himself.
“I consider that it is not a crime to have thought of neutralizing the mafia which harms the country and to have wanted to help a president who is a prisoner of various influences,” he told the court.
Francois denied any involvement in the plot. “I have never been directly or indirectly involved in such a project,” he said.
Others sentenced include Rafanoharana's wife who was given a five-year prison term. Former Madagascar Prime Minister Victor Ramahatra was handed a five-year suspended prison sentence.