ECOWAS COURT DISMISSES CASE AGAINST CÔTE D’IVOIRE IN SOPAI S.A. COMMERCIAL DISPUTE

The ECOWAS Court of Justice has ruled that the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire did not violate the rights to fair hearing and the rights to property of “Société de Promotion Agricole et Industrielle” (SOPAI S.A.) in a commercial dispute involving the insolvency of a bankrupt investment Bank.

In its judgment, the Court said there was no evidence of Côte d’Ivoire preventing SOPAI SA from accessing national courts or obtaining a fair decision. The Court also averred that SOPAI SA failed to demonstrate any obstruction by the state that would prevent it from seeking justice. As evidence, the Court mentioned the judgments given by national jurisdictions which were all in favor of SOPAI. The Court also noted that SOPAI had avenues to enforce its claims, with the liquidation process still ongoing.

On the alleged violation of the right to property, the Court held said that the restrictive measures were taken in the public’s interest, in accordance with Article 14 of the African Charter on Hu-man and Peoples’ Rights. The Court added that the state’s actions, aiming to preserve economic order during COFIPA’s liquidation, were neither disproportionate nor illegitimate.

In Suit ECW/CCJ/APP/44/22, SOPAI SA, an Abidjan-based company sued the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire for the intervention of the Public Prosecutor in a case opposing it to COFIPA, an in-vestment bank owing it the sum of 843,574,104 CFA.

SOPAI averred that by judgment No 729 of 24 July 2003, an Ivorian Court of First Instance ordered COFIPA to reimburse SOPAI SA the sum of 800 million CFA unduly held since 1996. COFIPA complied and paid the debt but failed to comply with a subsequent judgment asking it to reim-burse the sum of 843,574,104 CFA representing legal interests. SOPAI undertook to enforce these decisions by serving a payment order on COFIPA in June 2005.

However, the execution of the judgment was stopped by a motion of settlement filed by the Public Prosecutor on the basis of Article 32 of Law No 94-440 amended by Law No 97-247 which stipulates that the Public Prosecutor may submit such request when the execution of a decision is likely to disrupt economic, social and political public order. The request suspended the execution of the decision and COFIPA took advantage of the suspensive effect to organize its insolvency, file for bankruptcy and to be wound up, preventing SOPAI to access the debt.

SOPAI argued that the move by the Public Prosecutor, alongside COFIPA’s subsequent liquida-tion, violated its rights to a fair hearing and to property as protected under the African Charter.

In its response, the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire outlined COFIPA’s negative financial standing, and the regulatory steps taken, including the withdrawal of its operating license and liquidation. The State maintained that these measures were in SOPAI’s interest, with the liquidation process set to reimburse the company and other creditors.
Côte d’Ivoire refuted the claim that SOPAI had been denied a fair hearing, citing the initial re-payment and subsequent legal rulings in SOPAI’s favor. The Respondent State also noted the financial regulator’s involvement and contended that all actions taken were lawful and in the interest of the public and creditors alike.

The judgment was delivered by the Judge Rapporteur, Hon. Justice Ricardo Claúdio Monteiro Gonçalves. Other judges on the panel were Hon. Justices Dupe Atoki and Sengu Mohamed. Koroma.