Paris: New step in “ill-gotten gains” scandal involving 3 African leaders

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The Board of Inquiry at the Paris Court of Appeal will issue its decision on whether to open a criminal investigation against three African leaders, suspected of having embezzled public funds to finance the purchase of personal property, on October 29. An appeal brought by the Paris Prosecutor’s office against a decision by top French judge Francoise Desset to open a judicial inquiry was examined Thursday.

According to a communiqué from the board of inquiry, in charge of examining an appeal brought by the Paris Public Prosecutor’s office, a decision on a judicial inquiry in France, to determine whether or not three African heads of states suspected of embezzling public funds, will be issued on October 29.

The three African presidents charged in the affair are; Congolese President Sassou Nguesso, the late Gabonese president Omar Bongo Ondimba, and President of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema, whose real estate holdings in France amount to 160 million euros in France alone, according to Transparency International, the plaintiffs.

The Judge in charge of fiscal suits in Paris, Françoise Desset, last May ordered the opening of a criminal investigation into the alleged ill-gotten gains of the central African leaders. But although Madame Desset’s office had agreed that the complaint filed by Transparency International, last December, was admissible, the Paris Public Prosecutor, opposed the opening of a judicial inquiry, appealed while arguing that the plaintiffs could not claim prejudice in the case.

“We will go to the Court of Cassation” warns Sherpa

Whether or not the decision will be favorable when the investigation reopens on October 29, it is yet another procedural stage that promises to prolong the case even longer, warns Maud Perdriel-Vaissière who is in charge of the case at Sherpa, an association of lawyers who filed the complaint in May 2007.

“There are two scenarios: either the Court of Appeal decides not to start an investigation, in which case our association will go to The Court of Cassation (the highest court in the French judiciary), or it decides in favour of opening an inquiry, in which case the Paris Public Prosecutor will go to The Court of Cassation.” Maud Perdriel-Vaissière is “confident” about the “admissibility” of the complaint, and “hopes the judge will work transparently and independently.”

the French police had conducted a preliminary investigation in 2007, following the complaint filed by Sherpa, the Congolese Federation of France (FCF) and the Association de Survie. During the investigation, the police identified 39 properties and 70 bank accounts belonging to the late Omar Bongo and his family, 24 properties and 112 bank accounts held by the Sassou-Nguesso family, and a fleet of limousines purchased by the Obiang family.

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