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Friday, 20 March 2009

Bongo, the des res despot and King of Corruption

The Sunday TimesPresident of Gabon uses treasury cash to fund luxury lifestyle
Bongo Ondimba and his wife Edith

Bongo Ondimba, president of Gabon, and his wife Edith

A mansion worth £15m in one of Paris’s most elegant districts has become the latest of 33 luxury properties bought in France by President Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, the world’s longest-serving leader, and his family, it was alleged last week.

According to files seen by The Sunday Times, a French judicial investigation has discovered that Bongo, 72, and his relatives also bought a fleet of limousines, including a £308,823 Maybach for his wife, Edith, 44. Payment for some of the cars was taken directly from the treasury of Gabon, a country rich in oil.

Bongo, who started his career as a postal worker, has ruled for 40 years and has become one of wealthiest leaders in the world while 30% of his people eke out a living on less than 50p a day.

The Paris mansion is in the Rue de la Baume, near the Elysée Palace, the home of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who greeted Bongo there last week. The 21,528 sq ft home was bought in June last year by a property company based in Luxembourg. The firm’s partners are two of Bongo’s children, Omar, 13, and Yacine, 16, his wife Edith and one of her nephews. Bongo is reported to have more than 30 children.

The residence is the most expensive in his portfolio, which includes nine other properties in Paris, four of which are on the exclusive Avenue Foch, near the Arc de Triomphe. He also rents a nine-room apartment in the same street.

Bongo has a further seven properties in Nice, including four villas, one of which has a swimming pool. Edith has two flats near the Eiffel Tower and another property in Nice.

Investigators identified the properties through tax records. Checks at Bongo’s houses in turn allowed them to find details of his fleet of cars. Edith used a cheque, drawn on an account in the name of “Paierie du Gabon en France” (part of the Gabon treasury), to buy the Maybach, painted Cote d’Azur blue, in February 2004.

Bongo’s daughter Pascaline, 52, used a cheque from the same account for a part-payment of £29,497 towards a £60,000 Mercedes two years later. Bongo bought himself a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti F1 in October 2004 for £153,000, while his son Ali acquired a Ferrari 456 M GT in June 2001 for £156,000.

Bongo’s fortune has repeatedly come under the spotlight. According to a 1997 US Senate report, his family spends £55m a year.

In a separate French investigation into corruption at the former oil giant Elf Aquitaine, an executive testified that it paid £40m a year to Bongo via Swiss bank accounts in exchange for permission to exploit his country’s reserves. Bongo has denied this.

The latest inquiry, by the French antifraud agency OCRGDF, followed a lawsuit that accused Bongo and two other African leaders of plundering public funds to finance their purchases.

“Whatever the merits and qualifications of these leaders, no one can seriously believe that these assets were paid for out of their salaries,” alleges the lawsuit brought by the Sherpa association of jurists, which promotes corporate social responsibility.

Jean Merckaert, of the Catholic Committee Against Hunger and For Development in Paris, who first drew up an inventory of Bongo’s properties last year, said: “France sees itself as a world leader in fighting corruption and yet now it is not only refusing to lift a finger against Bongo and other dictators, but is greeting their money with open arms.”

- Born Albert-Bernard Bongo in 1935, he changed his name to El Hadj Omar Bongo when he converted to Islam in 1973. 
- He has been in power since 1967 and became the world’s longest-serving ruler after Fidel Castro stepped down as Cuba’s president in February. 
- He is married to Edith, the daughter of the Congolese president, Denis Sassou-Nguesso. 
- He has more than 30 children - though not all of them by his wife.
- His home town, formerly Lewai, has been renamed Bongoville.

Video: Bongo and his wife dancing at a recent rally

Official website of Le Gabon

How come nobody is judging the western companies & banks involved in these transactions? It takes 2 to tango. If the west is serious about corruption, let it begin home. Oil and minerals taken from these countries are consumed by western citizens and thus contributing to corruption indirectly.

None Jenkins, Stockholm, Sweden

I hope the World Leaders al-beit G8 will not fold their arms and watch as these self imposed African Rulers continues to plunder and rape their Country Treasury and Natural Resources at the detriment of the innocent citizen and poor populace. I think it is time to act for humanity sake.

Olufemi, London, UK

Africa is broken. Entirely and, it seems, irretrievably broken. Anyone for re-colonisation, maybe under a continent-wide UN mandate? The innocent people of Africa need protecting from their leaders.

Liam, Dublin, Ireland



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