France, Gabon slam 'fanciful' funding claims

30th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Allegations that Gabon's late president Omar Bongo funnelled embezzled bank funds to French parties were fanciful and defamatory, Gabonese and French officials said on Thursday.

US diplomatic cables, released by WikiLeaks and published on Tuesday by Spain's El Pais daily, alleged that Bongo lined his pockets with money from a 37-million-dollar (28-million-euro) bank embezzlement scheme and channelled some of it into French politics.

Officials from the French political left and right rejected accusations that their parties had received embezzled funds.

"All of this is completely fanciful," the spokesman for French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling conservative UMP party told AFP.

"I call all the more for prudence as the quoted cables are in the conditional, which shows the great fragility of these accusations," he said.

The US embassy said in the cable it was unable to assess the charges' veracity.

The treasurer of the opposition Socialist party, Regis Juanico, said that the party was "in no way concerned" by the accusations, calling for "prudence concerning the content of diplomatic cables."

A senior official at the Bank of Central African States (BEAC) made the accusation four days after Bongo's death in June 2009, in an interview with a diplomat at the US embassy in Cameroon, according to the cable.

"Gabonese officials used the proceeds for their own enrichment and, at Bongo's direction, funnelled funds to French political parties, including in support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy," the unnamed bank official was quoted as saying.

Asked who received the funds, the bank official said: "Both sides, but mostly the right; especially (former French president Jacques) Chirac and including Sarkozy."

A Paris-based lawyer for Gabonese President Ali Bongo, the son of Omar Bongo, said the allegations were "baseless."

Faustin Boukoubi, secretary general of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party, dismissed them as "sensational and thundering."

"We deplore that the memory of our late Omar Bongo is sullied -- but other people, who were mentioned, are alive, so when we ask these people they can say whether or not they received any embezzled money," he said.

Omar Bongo enjoyed a privileged relationship with a large part of the political class in France, the former colonial ruler in Gabon, and talk about him providing funding is nothing new.

After Bongo's death, former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing (1974-1981) directly referred to his funding of rival Jacques Chirac during a radio interview.

"I was president of the Republic at the time," he said on private station Radio 1. "I called Bongo and I said: 'Are you supporting the campaign of my rival (Chirac)? Then there was I silence I can still hear, then he said: 'Ah, you know about it', which was marvellous. From that moment I broke off my personal relationship with him."

Watchdog group Transparency International (TI) France in December 2008 lodged a complaint in Paris concerning what it called the "ill-gotten gains" of three African leaders, asking for a judicial probe into the French property owned by Bongo and presidents Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

© 2010 AFP

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