Ghana frees ally of ex-I.Coast leader, drops murder charge

Wed Oct 24, 2012 4:16pm GMT

* Former minister still faces "economic crimes" charges

* Relations between two countries strained over attacks

* U.N. experts blame violence on exiled Gbagbo loyalists

By Clair MacDougall

ACCRA, Oct 24 (Reuters) - A court in Ghana released a top ally of former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo on Wednesday after dismissing charges brought by Ivorian authorities that he murdered two men during last year's post-election civil war.

Allegations that pro-Gbagbo exiles in Ghana have masterminded a rash of armed raids on security and infrastructure targets in Ivory Coast in recent months have strained relations between the two West African neighbours.

Justin Kone Katinan, Gbagbo's former budget minister, was arrested in August on an international warrant accusing him of financial crimes.

After being released on bail, he was re-arrested and charged with two killings allegedly committed at the height of the conflict, which erupted after Gbagbo refused to accept the victory of rival Alassane Ouattara in a poll in late 2010.

"Unless you can tell me a reason how legally you are able to initiate proceedings against Mr Katinan, I have no option but to release him...You are free," Judge Ali Baba Bature told a court in Ghana's capital Accra, dismissing the murder charges.   Continued...

Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.