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Sunday, 17 May 2009

Prosecutor seeks to block African leader probe

The Paris prosecutor's office has appealed the investigation regarding three African presidents and their purchases of luxury homes in France.

PARIS – The Paris prosecutor's office has appealed a judge's decision to investigate whether three African presidents plundered state coffers to buy luxury homes in France, a legal source said Thursday.

The judge decided Tuesday to launch a formal probe in response to a lawsuit filed by Transparency International France against the presidents of Gabon and Congo -- both former French colonies -- and of Equatorial Guinea.

But state prosecutors plan to appeal to try to block the probe, arguing that the independent anti-graft watchdog has no right to lodge a complaint because it is not a direct victim of any wrongdoing, the source said.

The Paris appeal court will now have to decide if the probe goes ahead or not. It does not have to make its decision within any particular timeframe.

When the probe was announced on Tuesday, Daniel Lebegue, the head of Transparency International France, hailed it as "a historic decision that announces the end of impunity for corrupt leaders in the world."

The anti-graft group filed its lawsuit last December against Presidents Omar Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, Denis Sassou Nguesso of Congo -- both close allies of France -- and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

It accused the leaders, who deny any wrongdoing, of acquiring stately homes in Paris and of buying luxury cars with embezzled public money.

Transparency International had filed suit twice before, in March 2007 and July last year, to denounce the Gabonese president's acquisition of luxury homes in France, sparking a wave of protests from his supporters at home.

The Paris prosecutor's office last year ordered a preliminary police investigation into the allegations, but finally dismissed both lawsuits for lack of evidence.

In their latest suit, the anti-graft activists registered as civil plaintiffs in the case and successfully forced French authorities to appoint a judge to take the investigation further.

The police report on Bongo's French assets fuelled tensions between the two countries, with Gabon threatening to review relations with France.

AFP / Expatica

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