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Video by George HARRIS

Latest update : 2009-02-27

France has frozen bank accounts held by Gabon's President Omar Bongo, Africa's longest-ruling head of state, who had more than four million euros in nine French accounts.

AFP - France has frozen bank accounts held by Gabon's President Omar Bongo after a court ordered he return a payment made to him to release a jailed Frenchman, the plaintiff's lawyer said Thursday.
The nine seized French accounts hold more than four million euros, said Jean-Philippe Le Bail, who is representing a French plaintiff who paid Bongo 457,347 euros (583,454 dollars) to free his father from prison.
In 1996, Rene Cardona was imprisoned after a business dispute with Bongo, to whom he had sold a fishing and shipping firm. The businessman was released after his son paid money into Bongo's personal account, a court heard.
Cardona's son made a complaint to the French authorities and in September a court in the southwestern city of Bordeaux ruled the payment had been illegal and ordered that Bongo repay the entire sum plus interest and legal costs.
The verdict was confirmed at appeal on Monday, and Le Bail told AFP that by his calculation the sum now due adds up to more than one million euros.
"The accounts held by Omar Bongo in two French banks have been seized," Le Bail said, confirming local press reports.
"This concerns Credit Lyonnais, in which the president of Gabon has two current accounts, two savings accounts and a share account, and BNP, in which he has two checking accounts, a savings account and a share account," he said.
"In the accounts as a whole there is a little over four million euros, not taking into account transactions that are currently underway," he added.
A lawyer representing the Gabonese leader told AFP the case was a private dispute, and adding that a Libreville commercial court had sentenced the Frenchman to pay Bongo 900,000 euros in damages.
"This is a business disagreement two private individuals who have known each other for years," lawyer Francois Meyer told AFP.
Cardona, 75, said he bore no ill-feelings towards Bongo over his 48 days in a West African jail at the centre of a deadly Ebola outbreak.
"I always had good relations with president Bongo, whom I have known for more than 40 years and whom I still highly esteem. But I believe he has been badly counselled," he told AFP.
Africa's longest serving head of state, 72-year-old Bongo has ruled his oil-rich but socially impoverished former French colony since 1967 and has been a close associate of a string of French leaders.
In recent years his often murky economic ties with France and French figures have complicated his relations with Paris and have become the subject of a legal challenge by anti-corruption activists.
A French police investigation has reportedly established that Bongo and his family own at least 33 luxury properties in France, including a villa in Paris bought in 2007 for 18.8 million euros.
Last month Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was embarrassed when it was revealed that Bongo's government paid consultancy firms 2.64 million euros for advice on health policy drawn up by Kouchner before he took office.

Date created : 2009-02-26