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Court stops inquiry into three African leaders’ property portfolios

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-10-29

A case looking into luxury properties and cars owned by ruling African clans in France has been called off by the Court of Appeal in Paris. NGO Transparency International said it would appeal the decision.

The French Court of Appeal has ruled that there will be no investigation into luxury properties owned in France by members of African nations' ruling elite families.

Anti-corruption NGO Transparency International filed a complaint in December 2008, saying property held by the families of Omar Bongo (Gabon), Denis Sassou-Nguesso (Congo-Brazzaville) and Teodoro Obiang (Equatorial Guinea) had been obtained by "concealment and misuse of public funds" of these desperately poor countries.

In a communiqué released Thursday, Transparency International said it intended to appeal the ruling.

“We are disappointed but not surprised,” Catherine Pierce of Transparency International told FRANCE 24 after the ruling.

 

Pierce also felt the court had not focused on the right issues during the proceedings. “It was not the fundamental issue [of corruption] being discussed, but rather the admissibility of the findings of Transparency International,” she said.


A 2007 police investigation identified 39 properties and 70 bank accounts held by Omar Bongo (since deceased) and his relatives, 24 properties and 112 bank accounts connected to the family of Sassou-Nguesso, and luxury limousines bought by the Obiang family.

Transparency International said the total value of the assets was over 160 million euros.

Paris judge Francoise Dessent gave the green light in May for the opening of an inquiry, but prosecutors have successfully appealed the decision and the case will not be investigated further. The appeals court ruled that the civil society activists could not legitimately act as plaintiffs against the foreign heads of state and that the investigation should not proceed.

"Those in France and Africa who organise and take advantage of the looting of African public money will be celebrating with champagne" said William Bourdon, lawyer for the anti-corruption group Transparency International, which is behind the case.

Transparency scored a big success in May when a magistrate launched a judicial investigation into its allegations that the assets were bought with embezzled public funds.

But state prosecutors immediately appealed to try to stop the probe, and the appeals court ruled in their favour.

Transparency said it would appeal to France's highest court, which will not examine the substance of the allegations but just whether Thursday's appeals court decision conforms to law.

Lawyers for Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea, welcomed the decision and accused the campaigners of using "humanitarian alibis" to mask other aims.

"This shows that attempts to use the French justice system for obscure purposes are doomed to fail," they said, adding that Obiang owned a property in France but no bank accounts.

 

Date created : 2009-10-29

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