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Sunday, 17 May 2009

Court probe bodes ill for African luxury-loving elite


The tide is turning against African leaders who have dipped their fingers in the public purse to live in extreme luxury even as those they lead sit on the edge of garbage dumps.

African leaders have been looting public treasuries, stashing the cash in foreign accounts or buying property abroad — mainly in their former colonisers — but these havens are no longer safe.

French judge Françoise Desset has opened a probe into use of funds by Presidents Omar Bongo of Gabon, Denis Sassou-Nguesso (Republic of Congo) and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

The move is likely to strain diplomatic relations between Gabon and the Republic of Congo, France’s former colonies. Equatorial Guinea was a Spanish colony.


The investigation follows lawsuits by the French branch of anti-corruption group Transparency International and rights lobby Sherpa Association. The presidents’ families and their associates are accused of using government funds to buy luxury homes in Paris and luxury car models such as Bugatti Veyron, Ferrari and Maserati.

They also hold fat bank accounts in France suspected to be theft proceeds, mainly from oil resources.

Mr Bongo, “the king of bling”, and Mr Obiang are believed to have used their countries’ huge oil resources to enrich themselves, their families and friends.

Sherpa claims the three leaders are using relatives as nominees to hide valuable real estate and cars in France as well as offshore bank accounts with huge volumes of loot.

President Bongo is suspected to be hiding 39 apartments, 70 bank accounts and nine luxury cars. And Mr Sassou-Nguesso is believed to be concealing 18 apartments and holding 112 bank accounts and several luxury vehicles.

Police investigations in 2007 revealed that Mr Obiang Nguema has an apartment and eight luxury cars in France. Their spending habits are legendary.

Take the case of Mr Bongo Ondimba, 72, Africa’s longest-serving ruler who came to power in 1967. A 1997 US Senate report claimed that Mr Bongo’s family spends £55million (Sh6.3 billion) a year, mainly from oil proceeds.

During graft investigation at the former oil giant Elf Aquitaine, a senior official testified that the firm paid £40 million (Sh4.6 billion) a year to Mr Bongo through Swiss bank accounts in exchange for permission to exploit oil reserves.


According to the Sunday Times, quoting a police probe report, the Bongos bought a mansion worth £15 million (Sh1.7 billion) in Paris in June last year. The 21,528-square-foot home is in Rue de la Baume, near the Elysée Palace, the home of French president Nicolas Sarkozy. A Luxembourg-based company that bought the home is owned by two of Bongo’s children, Omar, 13, and Yacine, 16, and his wife Edith.

Mr Bongo has nearly 30 children with different mothers.

The French investigators found out that the Bongos own nine pieces of property on the exclusive Avenue Foch, near the Arc de Triomphe. He also rents a nine-room apartment on the same street.

Further, Bongo has four villas in the French city of Nice, one with a swimming pool. Edith has two flats near the Eiffel Tower and another property in Nice.The investigators who used tax records indicated that the cash used by the Bongos came from the national treasury.

For instance, Edith used a cheque, drawn on an account in the name of “Paierie du Gabon en France” (part of the Gabon treasury), to buy a Maybach (the largest limousine in the Mercedes family), painted Cote d’Azur blue, in February 2004. One of Bongo’s daughters, Pascaline, 52, used a cheque from the same account for a part-payment of £29,497 (Sh3.4 million) towards a £60,000 (Sh6.9million) Mercedes in 2006.

Like Mr Bongo, Mr Obiang and Mr Sassou-Nguesso have their mouths in the oil wells — and their sons are having a field day.

Three years ago, Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, the President’s son, spent £1,600 (Sh184,000) shopping at Escada, a prestigious fashion house offering designer clothes, accessories and fragrance collections in Paris, and £3,700 (Sh425,500) a few doors down at Christian Lacroix, another luxury shop — all on the same day.

Christel is apparently a graduate of his father’s school of big spending.
During a visit to New York in 2006 for a United Nations summit, President Sassou-Nguesso ran up a hotel bill of £169,000 (Sh19.4 million). His delegation, which comprised several family members, occupied 44 rooms.

But if you thought Christel is extravagant, you probably have not heard of Little Teodoro, Mr Obiang’s cowboy son.

He claims to earn £30,000 (Sh3.5 million) a year, but he has bought a fleet of Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Bentleys most of them in Paris, where he lives in a luxury hotel. He is the proud owner of a $35 million (Sh2.7 billion) Malibu mansion, and his neighbours include Britney Spears and Mel Gibson.

Chief beneficiary

His father, Mr Obiang, is undoubtedly the chief beneficiary of the country’s oil wealth. Once-prestigious US bank, Riggs was fined $16 million (Sh1.2 billion) for accepting a $700 million (Sh53.2 billion) deposit from oil companies to Obiang’s private account.

If he wants to travel, he chooses any of his six personal planes, the most recent of which has a king-size bed and a bathroom with gold-plated taps.

France’s action, a radical shift in diplomatic policy, is likely to send a chilling a message to other African leaders keen to plunder their countries and invest the loot abroad.


Africa Watch said...

The tide is turning indeed. The French prosecutors should allow justice to take its course. Africans must rise up and defend justice. The impunity of these corrupt dictators has reach its peak. They must now face the music of their embezzlement and corrupt extravagant lifestyles.

Anonymous said...

This case is long over due. The French prosecutors should make sure not to temper with justice. If these tyrants are innocent let them prove it in court. simple.

Africa Watch said...

I am glad the this judge has been bold enough to defy the political establishment in France. The judge should travel to Africa and see things for himself.It may help him to decide on the case.

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