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Former ruler 'funnelled' embezzled funds to French politicians

Video by Christophe DANSETTE , Olivia SALAZAR WINSPEAR

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-12-31

Gabon's late ruler Omar Bongo (right) allegedly embezzled millions of dollars and helped fund several French politicians, including former president Jacques Chirac (left) and President Nicolas Sarkozy, say WikiLeaks reports published Wednesday.

AFP - Gabon's late president Omar Bongo allegedly lined his pockets with money from a 37-million-dollar (28-million-euro) bank embezzlement scheme and funneled some of it to French political parties, according to a classified US embassy cable published in Spanish daily El Pais.

A senior official at the Bank of Central of African States (BEAC) made the accusation four days after Bongo's death in June 2009, in an interview with a diplomat at the US embassy in Cameroon, according to the cable released by WikiLeaks.

"Gabonese officials used the proceeds for their own enrichment and, at Bongo's direction, funneled funds to French political parties, including in support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy," the unnamed bank official was quoted as saying.

Asked who received the funds, the bank official said: "Both sides, but mostly the right; especially (former French president Jacques) Chirac and including Sarkozy."

The Bank of Central of African States holds the pooled reserves of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community: Gabon (which chooses the bank governor), Cameroon (which hosts the bank headquarters), Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad and Equatorial Guinea.

According to the classified July 2009 cable, the BEAC governor, Gabonese national Philip Anzembe, had secretly placed 500 million euros in a high risk investment with French bank Societe Generale.

After this investment became public, "the consequent review of BEAC's accounts had revealed even broader and more brazen malfeasance linked to a hierarchy of Gabonese officials throughout BEAC," the cable said.

"BEAC's investigations have already tracked 18.3 billion CFA (36.6 million dollars) that were embezzled in checks made out in the name of Gabonese officials," it added.

The ruling family in Gabon, including then president Omar Bongo and his son Ali, who has since taken over as president, benefitted from the embezzlement, the cable said.

The US embassy was "unable to assess the veracity of the allegation that French politicians benefitted from BEAC's loss," said the cable, signed by US ambassador to Cameroon Janet Garvey. The contents of the cable were published by El Pais on Tuesday.

Watchdog group Transparency International (TI) France in December 2008 lodged a complaint in Paris concerning what it called the "ill-gotten gains" of three African leaders, asking for a judicial probe into the French property owned by Bongo and presidents Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of Congo and Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

France's top appeals court on November 9 authorised investigative judges to probe the corruption charges against the three African heads of state, in a ruling that was welcomed by TI but dismissed as ridiculous by Gabon's ruling Gabonese Democratic Party.

Date created : 2010-12-29


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