A court in Ghana on Wednesday released from custody the spokesman of ex-Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, but Justin Kone Katinan still faces an extradition hearing next month.
Katinan was first arrested in Ghana on August 24 on an Ivorian warrant for economic crimes allegedly committed while serving as Gbagbo's budget minister during the country's deadly post-election crisis last year.
He was granted bail on September 25 as Ghanaian prosecutors sought to extradite him, but was re-arrested three days later and charged with murder under Ghanaian law -- a seemingly unorthodox procedural move, as the alleged killings took place in Ivory Coast.
"Tell me the law under which the Republic of Ghana can institute an action against someone who committed a crime outside Ghana?" Magistrate Ali Baba Bature said, rejecting the state's request for Katinan to be kept in custody.
"At best, (Ivory Coast) can request for the extradition of the accused to seek trial there," the judge said. "Accused, you are free."
Bature had in previous hearings told prosecutors that they needed to combine the cases against Katinan into one extradition process, but prosecutors again on Wednesday pleaded for more time, saying they were not yet ready to drop the murder charges.
Bature's ruling effectively restored the bail that had been previously granted by the court in the extradition case, which initially involved economic crimes allegedly committed in Ivory Coast.
Free from custody, Katinan was driven by his lawyer to another court for an extradition hearing. A clerk said Magistrate Aboagye Tandoh was not available and the case was adjourned to November 7.
Police told Katinan that he was obligated to report to their station in order to formally restore his bail, but the Ivorian's lawyer blocked the move, an AFP reporter at the court said.
"That is not done," defence lawyer Patrick Sogbodjor told police, and Katinan was seen back in his lawyer's car, driving away from the court house.
Some who attended the day's proceedings, including people driving in cars with Ivory Coast license plates and overheard speaking French, were seen crying after Katinan's release was finalised.
Katinan was among thousands of Gbagbo supporters who fled to neighbouring Ghana after the fall of his regime.
In a report released this month, the United Nations alleged some of these Gbagbo loyalists have set up a "strategic command" base, from where they are planning the overthrow of the new Ivory Coast government led by Gbagbo's rival Alassane Ouattara.
Ghana has disputed the UN's findings, but President John Dramani Mahama has pledged that his country will not be used as a haven for any coup plotters.
Ivory Coast temporarily closed all its land, sea and air borders with Ghana last month, after a shooting at the Noe border town, allegedly launched by gunmen based in Ghana.
Analysts say the Katinan case, already a priority for Ivory Coast, has taken on added significance amid the border tension and persistent reports of various groups working to topple Ouattara.
Gbagbo's refusal to cede power after losing 2010 elections to Ouattara led to a five-month crisis which killed more than 3,000 people.© ANP/AFP