Florent Dengueade was an outcast prince of the realm here until helicopter-borne French paratroopers ended the 2 1/2-year empire of Jean-Bedel Bokassa.
Today, the slight, 33-year-old Dengueade is a pathetic figure in the Central African Republic, hounded into living at secret locations that he refuses to reveal to his closest friends.
The morning after the coup, he was beaten up at a gas station and only the intervention of friends who knew that he had fallen out with his uncle, Bokassa, and Dengueade's sister, the former empress Catherine, saved him.
Dengueade and his younger sister -- Catherine is 30 -- were born in Chad of Central African parents. They came to live with their great uncle, who was then Central Africa's Army chief, in 1964. Soon after they arrived, Bokassa, then 43, began "dating" his 15-year-old grandniece, Dengueade said.
Bokassa ran a very strict household, in a 1965 military coup, however, Dengueade said. After Bokassa took power in a 1965 military coup, however Dengueade had to leave his house.
"He accused me of spying," Dengueade said.
In 1969, Dengueade went to Cameroon for further schooling. There, he said, Bokassa's director of security and three policemen arrested him and brought him back to Ngaragba Prison.
Dengueade said he was kept chained to a wall for 127 days, fed a handful of cassava meal and a cupped handful of water every other day. When exhausted, he alleged, he was forced to lie down in his own excrement.
Although Bokassa's mother is his father's sister, the close family ties "meant nothing" to the dictator, Dengueade said. "Nobody knew I was in jail," he added.
Finally, an Army officer who had been jailed with Dengueade was released and contacted his parents, who got him out of prison.
When he had lived with Bokassa in the 1960s, Dengueade said the dictator did not drink much, only wine on occasion.
Recently his consumption had gone up to four bottles of good scotch a day, he said. Furthermore, he added, Bokassa encouraged all of his ministers to drink with him and was suspicious of anyone who would not.
"He could become enraged and without mercy when drunk."
Dengueade also said the self-proclaimed emperor enjoyed "seeing people suffer right in front of him. He liked to personally pour boiling oil on people."
Asked if he would try to get in touch with his sister, Catherine, Dengueade sputtered that neither he nor his parents was interested.
"To hell with her," he said.