E. Guinea opposition welcomes French corruption probe

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Equatorial Guinea's opposition leader Placido Mico on Thursday welcomed a French court's decision to allow an investigation into ill-gotten gains by African leaders as "important and historic".

"This decision is very important and historic and should set an example to heads of state who use for themselves the money of the state and buy luxury cars and houses," said Mico, who heads the Convergence for Social Democracy (CPDS) party and was an unsuccessful candidate in a presidential poll last year.

France's top appeals court ruled Tuesday that magistrates could investigate the sources of money spent in France by Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Congo-Brazzaville's President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon who died last year.

Charges were laid by Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption campaign group which alleges that the leaders and their relatives spent state funds from their countries on lavish purchases in France.

"I am content with this decision by the highest court of appeal in Paris, which has agreed to name an investigating magistrate to look into the wealth of President Obiang and of his family, wealth acquired with the money of citizens who live in poverty here," Mico said.

"I hope that this decision will set an example and won't stop" at Equatorial Guinea, Congo and Gabon, he added, pressing for the French move "to extend to all the democratic and industrialised nations where these heads of state have the habit of depositing (money)".

Citing French police investigations dating from 2007, TI said Obiang owned more than four million euros' worth of vehicles, Bongo and his relations had 39 homes and Sassou Nguesso and his relations held 112 bank accounts.

The executive director of the Congolese Observatory of Human Rights, Roger Bouka, has also welcomed the "good decision," which he said Wednesday he was expecting.

"I was waiting for this. It's a good decision which enables pressure to be put on African leaders who embezzle wealth for their personal profit, to place it in European countries," Bouka said.

Gabon's ruling party lashed out at the ruling, calling it ridiculous and accusing the court of nostalgia for French colonial rule and a lack of understanding of international law.

© 2010 AFP

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