The President of Djibouti, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, has informed the High Court in the UK that he would not be appearing to give evidence in the corruption hearing against his one-time ally, Abdourahman Boreh, which started on October 8.
If he had appeared, he would have been the first African head of state to do so.
Mr Guelleh’s sensational climb down came in a letter he sent to Mr Justice Flaux in which he said that the “higher interests of my country” would not allow him to appear as a witness in the matter.
The U-turn, having previously agreed to be a witness, will be an embarrassment for the president in his long-running personal battle with Mr Boreh, a multimillionaire businessman.
The government of Djibouti is claiming that Mr Boreh acquired his wealth through fraudulent and corrupt means, which he denies.
This hearing is the second round of a heavyweight legal contest being fought between the government of Djibouti and Mr Boreh, who says that the claims are politically motivated.
He made similar claims when in 2009 he was sentenced to 15 years in prison in absentia on charges that he was party to a grenade attack in Djibouti, a pretext that the government used to apply to the High Court in the UK to freeze Mr Boreh’s global assets worth millions of pounds.
It eventually turned out in court that they were trumped up charges brought by the government and Mr Boreh’s assets were unfrozen.
Last month, in the light of the allegations of corruption and fraud against Mr Boreh, Mr Justice Flaux had insisted that Mr Guelleh appeared in court in person to give evidence.
While Mr Boreh has been around in the court, senior members of the Djibouti government, including the president, have been absent.
So, Mr Justice Flaux argued that if the government wanted to “make good [its] case” President Guelleh would have to be called as a witness.
In his letter to the court, the Djiboutian leader noted the precedent his appearance would have created, adding that his non-appearance was “no disrespect to the English courts”, which he said he held in high regard.