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Africa: The Scandal of the “Ill-gotten Gains”

On November 9, 2010, the French Supreme Court of Appeals overturned a decision rendered a year ago by the Paris Court of Appeals, agreeing to hear the case brought by the French section of the NGO Transparency International [fr]  called “the ill-gotten gains” of the heads of state of Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinee  and members of their entourage.

It all begin in March 2007, when the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Economic Development (CCFD) – Terre Solidaire  published a report on the  embezzlement of public funds by politicians of the South [fr].  It's title?  “Ill-gotten gains…too often bring profit: Dictators’ fortune and Western complacency.”

Focusing on domestic goods of the countries victimized by their leaders, the study by the CCFD – Terre solidaire [fr] revealed abuses at the national level:

« Par exemple, Mobutu a transformé Gbadolite, son village natal au Zaïre, en un « Versailles de la jungle », avec une cinquantaine d’hôtels, un aéroport international qui pouvait accueillir le Concorde et plus de trois palais. Quant à Denis Sassou Nguesso, président en exercice au Congo Brazzaville, il détiendrait, avec sa famille, la moitié de l’économie du pays»

For example, Mobutu  transformed Gbadolite, his native village in Zaire into a “Versailles of the jungle,” with about 50 hotels, an international airport capable of receiving the Concorde, and more than three palaces.  Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of Congo Brazzaville, and his family controlled half of the country's economy.

A police investigation confirmed most of the allegations and uncovered the existence of many other goods [fr] in the form of both real estate and personal property (including cars and the dictators’ bank accounts).

Sassou Nguesso's house. Source: témoignages.re

The report alleged that the clan of Omar Bongo Odimba (OBO) of Gabon had appropriated 39 real estate properties, of which 17 of there were in the name of their leader.  Most of the properties were located in the 16th arrondissement of Paris.  It also identified 70 bank accounts, 11 of them in OBO's name; and an automobile fleet of at least 9 vehicles whose total value is estimated at 1,493,443 euros.

survie.org reveals [fr] that, in addition to OBO's ill-gotten gains in France,

« En 1999, le Sénat américain a publié un rapport d’enquête sur l’origine de la fortune du président (gabonais). Ce document établit qu’Omar Bongo est devenu client de la Citibank de New York en 1970 et qu’il a ouvert de multiples comptes auprès de ses différents bureaux, à Bahreïn, à Jersey, à Londres, au Luxembourg, à New York, à Paris et en Suisse. …. Au total, le montant des avoirs du chef d’Etat, qui ont été placés sur ses différents comptes bancaires à la Citibank, à New York, de 1985 à 1997, serait d’environ 130 millions de dollars. La City Bank aurait expliqué « que l’argent provenait d’une allocation budgétaire, 8,5 % du budget gabonais – soit 111 millions de dollars – étant chaque année réservés au président ».

In 1999, the U.S. Senate a published the report of an investigation into the origins of the fortune of the President (of Gabon).  This document established that Omar Bongo had become a client of Citibank of New York in 1970 and that he had opened multiple accounts at different offices in Bahrain, Jersey, London, Luxembourg, New York, Paris, Switzerland.  … All told, from 1985 to 1997 the Head of State had allegedly deposited around 130 million dollars in various accounts with Citibank New York.  Citibank allegedly explained “that the money came from a budgetary allocation: 8.5% of the Gabonese budget, or 111 million dollars, was reserved for the president annually.”

The report goes further.  survie.org adds [fr] that:

« C’est dans son hôtel particulier qu’il a ainsi accueilli pendant la campagne présidentielle française les candidats Nicolas Sarkozy et François Bayrou ainsi que la moitié du gouvernement Fillon lors de sa première visite officielle sous la présidence de N. Sarkozy. »

During the French presidential campaign, he also received candidates Nicolas Sarkozy and François Bayrou at his home, as well as half of Fillon's government during the first official visit under the Sarkozy presidency.

Another site, asso-sherpa.org revealed [fr] more proof of the abuses of the OBO clan:

“Edith Bongo, alors épouse du Président gabonais, aurait ainsi fait l’acquisition d’une Daimler Chrysler au moyen d’un chèque tiré sur un compte ouvert auprès de la Banque de France par le Trésor Public Gabonais.

Edith Bongo, who was the wife of the Gabonese President at the time, allegedly acquired a Daimler Chrysler with a check drawing on an account opened at the Banque de France by the Gabonese Public Treasury.

Copy of the check for Chrysler purchase. Source: Asso-sherpa.org

Police services have also exposed the role played by various intermediaires (bankers, lawyers) in carrying out these various operations.

According to the report [fr] by CCFD-Terre solidaire, the fortune of Congolese President Denis Sassou NGesso and his entourage allegedly consists  of 18 properties; 112 bank accounts; and a fleet of automobiles, including  at least une vehicle worth 172,321 euros.

Nor is that everything.  The Congolese President and his clan‘s embezzlements

«  auraient commencé dès sa première période au pouvoir, de 1979 à 1992, en négociant la vente du pétrole en dessous du prix du marché en contrepartie de versements à son profit. A ce jour, la fortune de Denis Sassou Nguesso est estimée à plus d’un milliard de dollars. »

allegedly began during his first presidential term between 1979 and 1992, by negotiating the sale of oil below the market price in exchange for bank account deposits that benefited him personally.  At that time, Denis Sassou Nguesso's fortune was estimated at more than a billion dollars.

As for President Teodoro Obiang, who had closer relations with the United States than with France, the article titled “Biens mail acquis à qui profite le crime?” ["Gains ill-gotten: who profits from this crime?"] by Antoine Dulin and Jean Merckaert and found at ccfd-terresolidaire.org explains the extent of their illegal self-enrichment:

80% du revenu national serait monopolisé par l’oligarchie alors que 65% de la population vit toujours dans l’extrême pauvreté. ….. En 2003, ces comptes représentaient la relation la plus importante de la Rigg’s Bank, avec des versements totaux allant de 400 millions à 700 millions de dollars en une fois ! »

80% of national revenue is allegedly monopolized by the oligarchy, while 65% of the population still lives in extreme poverty.  In 2003, these accounts represented the most important relationship held by Rigg's Bank, with total deposits increasing from 400 million dollars to 700 million dollars at a time!

Furthermore, after the November 2009 elections in Equatorial Guinea, President Obiang formed a new government of 69 members, ousting practically all of the preceding ministers.  According to the site [fr] Africatime.com:

« En effet, dans le Gouvernement, il y a trois fils du Général, un frère, trois neveux, deux beaux-frères et trois cousins. »

Indeed, in the government, there are the General's three sons, one brother, three nephews, two brothers-in-law, and three cousins.

In Cameroon, the authors of the CCFD-Terre solidaire investigation write that:

À peine devenu chef d’État (en novembre 1982), Paul Biya faisait parler de lui à propos de son patrimoine. Le 16 mars 1983, Le Canard enchaîné dévoilait deux acquisitions présidentielles en France : l’une avenue Foch à Paris, l’autre sur la Côte d’Azur, à Cagnes-sur-Mer. …. En mai 1997, L’Événement du jeudi estime que la fortune du président camerounais et de sa famille approche les 70 millions d’euros, dont des châteaux en France et en Allemagne, à Baden-Baden.

Shortly after Paul Biya became Head of State (in November 1982), people were already talking about his inheritance.  On March 16, 1983, Le Canard enchainé uncovered two presidential acquisitions in France: one on the Avenue Foch in paris; the other in Cagnes-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean.  In may 1977, L'Evenement du jeudi estimated the fortune of the Cameroonian President and his family at close to 70 million euros, including chateaus in France and in Baden-Baden in Germany.

Despite all the evidence assembled by these investigations, it took until November 9, 2010 for the Supreme Court of Appeals to reach its decision.

In these times of troubling governance in Africa, the Ill-Gotten Gains affair can only reinforce the perception that government leaders are enriching themselves while their people live in misery.

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