(Bloomberg) -- Ivory Coast’s public prosecutor accused former rebel leader Guillaume Soro of preparing a coup, in an unexpected turn of events that may result in the politician being barred from running in presidential elections next year.
Soro, 47, is being sought for “endangering state security, embezzlement of public funds and money laundering,” prosecutor Richard Adou told reporters on Thursday as he played a seven-minute recording in which Soro allegedly tells an unknown interlocutor that weapons and key people are “positioned pretty much everywhere” at strategic locations.
Soro’s lawyer and spokeswoman, Affoussiata Bamba-Lamine, said in a video posted on the official Facebook page of Soro’s political party that the recording dates from 2017.
Soro has been a dominant figure in the West African nation’s political landscape for at least 15 years, having cultivated close ties with most key leaders as well as regional power brokers such as former Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, who lives in exile in Ivory Coast. While critics have called him a ruthless warlord with a burning ambition to become president, he commands the loyalty of a part of the security forces and appeals to young voters because of his age.
A former leader of the influential student union at the University of Abidjan, Soro surfaced as the political mastermind of rebels who seized the north of the country following a failed attempt to oust then-President Laurent Gbagbo in 2002. He eventually became prime minister in a power-sharing government under Gbagbo before siding with Ouattara in a bloody 2010-11 post-election conflict.
He launched a political movement earlier this year after falling out with Ouattara and resigning as parliament speaker. One of the reasons for the fallout is believed to be Ouattara’s apparent reluctance to step down after completing two terms in office and name him as a potential successor.
Soro was scheduled to arrive in Ivory Coast on Monday after spending six months abroad to mobilize support among Ivorians in Europe, but his private jet was rerouted to Ghana and later to Tenerife. Adou said an international arrest warrant means that Ivorian authorities are cooperating with Interpol for Soro’s arrest.
(Adds details on split with Ouattara in sixth paragraph.)
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