But while the news story was wrong, his release forced the Chinese government to publicly state what kind of deal had been achieved.
Last week, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told CNN, "China agreed not to repay interest-free inter-state debt that Cameroon had not repaid by the end of 2018."
In short, this was a small piece of Cameroon's liability to China.
So why the initial secrecy?
African Debt Repatriation
China may have also sought a sub-radar agreement because of political unrest in Cameroon.
The West African nation is fighting a rebellion on the Boko Haram in the north. A secessionist movement destabilizes the two Anglophone regions of the largely French-speaking nation, which has emerged from the union of a former British and a former French colony.
Cameroon has been deprived of the right to host the 2019 African Nations Cup, the continent's four-yearly football championship, due to the unrest that is now taking place in Egypt.
However, 85-year-old Biya, Cameroon, has been ruled for 36 years and increasingly looks like a "bad partner" from a business perspective, while China is experiencing growing control on the continent, says Chris Roberts, a political scientist University of Calgary. Cameroon in every way.
Shape or shape is getting worse in every metric day by day, "says Roberts." This regime has mined the foundations for a stable economy. "
Deep pockets, deep harbor
China has 1971 diplomatic relations with Their economic partnership grew when Nicolas Sarkozy became president of France in 2007, overseeing his country's diminished engagement with his former colonial territory, which created a vacuum for Beijing.
Cameroon's existing Douala harbor was overhauled, run down and restricted due to its location on a sediment-filled estuary.
When completed in 2035, Kribi will be the largest deep water port in the region. It will handle exports of Cameroon's bauxite, iron ore and other minerals, and could also serve the Chad-Cameroon Oil Development and Pipeline project, which includes oil from Chad.
The port of Kribi will also expand the western Silk Road of China, an initiative that Senegal signed last year, in West Africa. It is an important part of President XI's One Belt One Road multinational economic development plan.
"The Gulf of Guinea is of strategic importance to China," said Xavier Auregan, a specialist in China-Africa relations in francophone countries, explaining that one step in that direction is strengthening his interests in West Africa from Côte d'Ivoire to Gabon ,
"Cameroon is one of the countries that can bring together the energy infrastructure of … West Africa."
China has also undoubtedly benefited from these developments. Many of the contracts went to his companies.
"If you say we borrowed that money for this project or development effort, and we'll just write it down because we know we'll never get it back," says Roberts domestic effect, but it also has international repercussions. "
One of the big concerns about Chinese lending in Africa is debt trap diplomacy – the idea that Beijing will exert pressure on countries that can not repay loans for key-value transfers.
Last December, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta denied that Mombasa's massive Kilindini port, the largest port in East Africa, was listed as collateral for a multi-billion dollar Chinese loan to finance a railway line. China also denied the report. In Djibouti, similar concerns were expressed about China's recent acquisition of a stake in a port there.
Tensions between gold mines
China's decision to grant debt relief to Cameroon also comes at a difficult time between the country's traditional gold mining community and Chinese mining companies.
East Cameroon is rich in gold. Justin Kamga, coordinator of the Association for Forests and Rural Development (FODER) in Yaounde, says Chinese companies operate illegal mines across the region and have little respect for the country.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond to CNN's request for comment.
The local Cameroonian miners usually use artisanal mining methods that do not damage the environment, says Kamga. Chinese companies use heavy machinery, often marking villages with several 30-meter holes that destroy farmland.
Between 2012 and 2015, Kamga said that more than 250 excavations were abandoned mainly by Chinese companies. From 2015 to 2018, more than 100 people died in such holes, causing landslides and provoking local outrage among Chinese companies. In December, according to FODER, nine people died in such an incident.
The Cameroonian government did not respond to CNN's emails requesting a comment.
Auregan says ruthless mining has tarnished China's image, but is unlikely to be responsible for writing off the 2018 debt.
"China sees the geostrategic and long-term vision of Cameroon's importance in this region," says Roberts.
In short, as long as China needs a maritime footing in West Africa, the debt burden in Cameroon may be reduced for a while.
Steven Jiang of CNN also contributed to this report from Beijing.