Secret US cable 'sullies memory' of late Gabon leader: party

30th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

A classified US embassy cable alleging that Gabon's late president Omar Bongo funnelled money from a bank embezzlement scheme to French political parties, sullies his memory, a leader of his party said Thursday.

"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," said Faustin Boukoubi, secretary general of the ruling Gabonese Democratic Party.

Boukoubi said he did not know if the "sensational and thundering statements" published by a website were reliable.

"What is embarrassing is that this is defamatory, for the people, the families, but this is the spirit of the time, we now love to talk, to spread news without proof," he added.

According to the US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks Bongo lined his pockets with money from a 37-million-dollar (28-million-euro) bank embezzlement scheme and funnelled some of it to French political parties.

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, funneled 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."

The ruling family in Gabon, including then president Omar Bongo and his son Ali, who has since taken over as president, benefitted from the embezzlement, the cable said.

The US embassy was "unable to assess the veracity of the allegation that French politicians benefitted from BEAC's loss," said the cable, signed by US ambassador to Cameroon Janet Garvey.

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.

France's top appeals court on November 9 authorised investigative judges to probe the corruption charges against the three African heads of state, in a ruling that was welcomed by TI but dismissed as ridiculous by Gabon's ruling Gabonese Democratic Party.

© 2010 AFP

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