French corruption suit targets African presidents
Gabon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea leaders’ luxury properties in France have been purchased with embezzled public money, say French anti-corruption activists.
3 December 2008
PARIS – French anti-corruption activists Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the presidents of Gabon, Congo and Equatorial Guinea, accusing them of acquiring luxury homes in France with embezzled public money.
The French chapter of Transparency International (TI), the non-governmental group Sherpa and a Gabonese citizen took joint action against Presidents Omar Bongo Ondimba, Denis Sassou Nguesso and Teodoro Obiang, and several of their associates, they said in a joint statement.
They accuse the African leaders of embezzlement, misuse of public funds and money-laundering in relation to "the acquisition of very substantial property and furniture assets in France," said their lawyer, William Bourdon.
"There is no doubt that these assets could not have been acquired with the sole salaries and benefits of these heads of state who face serious presumptions of embezzlement of public funds," the statement said.
One of Bongo's lawyers, Patrick Maisonneuve, said his client rejected the accusations and noted that two similar suits against him in the past had been dismissed after a police enquiry that lasted several months.
Transparency International has filed lawsuits twice before, in March 2007 and July 2008, to denounce the Gabonese president's acquisition of luxury homes in France, sparking a wave of protests from his supporters at home.
The initial complaints also targeted President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and his Angolan counterpart Eduardo dos Santos.
In 2007, Paris prosecutor's office ordered a preliminary police investigation into the allegations, but finally dismissed both lawsuits for lack of evidence of a criminal offence.
According to French media, the police report established that Bongo and his family owned 33 properties in France, including a Paris villa bought in 2007 for EUR 18.8 million, and that Sassou Nguesso owned at least three vast properties in the French capital.
But it did not establish the origin of the funds used to purchase the properties, for lack of a warrant, according to Le Monde newspaper.
This time the activists, by registering as civil plaintiffs in the case, are hoping to force French authorities to appoint a judge to take the investigation further.
The police report on Bongo's French assets has fuelled tensions between the two countries, with Gabon threatening to review relations with France.
[AFP / Expatica]