Francophile kleptocrats everywhere must be shaking in their Yves Saint Laurent double monk-strap black boots today, thanks to a Paris magistrate’s ruling. He accepted a case brought by Transparency International that requires French authorities to investigate how three African rulers, their family members and friends managed to acquire numerous luxury homes, cars and other assets in France.
It’s unusual to hear positive news from France about fighting graft. A few months ago, for example, the government decided French law prevents the prosecution of overseas bribery (Paris Pulls The Plug On Enforcement). So this marks a dramatic turnaround. There’s one problem, though — it might end soon.
The magistrate who made the ruling, Francoise Desset, is an independent investigator. But the justice ministry, through the public prosecutor’s office, is already trying to quash his decision. There’s concern the case and others that could follow would upset France’s foreign policy.
The rulers named in the suit are Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Congo Republic, Omar Bongo-Ondimba of Gabon, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea. Gabon and the Congo Republic are former French colonies still close to Paris, while Equatorial Guinea is becoming an important oil exporter. The French oil and gas group Total SA, according to Reuters, is “the leading producer in Gabon and Congo Republic and many other French firms, public and private, have long-term contracts there.”
Gabon’s President Bongo has run the country since 1967 and thinks of France as his second home, according to Reuters. The BBC said “a 2007 French police investigation found the leaders of the three countries and their relatives owned homes in upmarket areas of Paris and on the Riviera along with luxury cars, including Bugattis, Ferraris and Maseratis.”
If the investigation is allowed to proceed, Transparency International says the scope will be wide:
This judge will have to determine how the assets owned in France were acquired, and where the funds in the many bank accounts uncovered during a preliminary police investigation came from. The investigation will also throw light on the various intermediaries involved in the transactions under scrutiny, namely the banks identified by the police investigation whose compliance with anti-money laundering regulations is in question.
TI said it hopes the case will eventually lead to the right of restitution for the people of the three countries under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, ratified by France in 2005.
Our thanks to Pete from DC for sending us a link to this story.
Read Transparency International’s May 6, 2009 release here.