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France/Gabon – alleged stolen assets: Who will get Bongo’s cash?

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Apartment buildings in the 16th arrondissement, Paris

Apartment buildings in the 16th arrondissement, Paris (Photo: Vincent de Groot / CC license)

PARIS, FRANCE – While the people of Gabon mourn the death of their President and await his funeral, others are asking themselves what will happen to the criminal case brought against Omar Bongo in relation to alleged stolen assets, and a string of luxurious apartments, bank accounts and cars. Last year Transparency International and the Sherpa association lodged a complaint against Omar Bongo and two other African leaders suspected of profiting from the proceeds of public assets. The complaint led to a criminal investigation into Omar Bongo and his relatives, which established ownership of 39 apartments, 70 bank accounts and nine cars in France. Bongo’s death puts a halt to the criminal case, however. Radio France Internationale

“There is no longer any legal action possible against Omar Bongo, because criminal liability requires for the person to be alive,” says Maud Perdriel-Vaissiére, a lawyer from the Sherpa association, which campaigns for social corporate responsibility.

Most of the apartments are located in the 16th district of Paris, which is a notoriously expensive area, home to a number of diplomatic embassies.

And his family and relatives are still likely to enjoy the benefits of the alleged stolen assets. Bongo’s son Ali-Ben, who is thought to be the most likely to succeed his father, bought a Ferrari worth almost 200,000 euros in 2001, but the charges Bongo faced will not threaten his family or relatives.

However, there is the possibly of another civil action against Bongo, which would recover the assets from those inheriting Bongo’s estate.

“Sherpa does not exclude the possibility of launching a civil case against him,” Perdriel-Vaissiére told RFI. “Legal successors would have to pay for damages in that case,” she added.

“We are thinking about it, because it may be an option to explore, if we want to recover those stolen assets,” says Perdriel-Vaissiére.

Bongo, who owned a mansion near the Elysée Palace thought to be worth 17 million euros, was involved in a number of scandals which tainted Françafrique – the close relationship France maintained with a number of its former colonies.

“Bongo was central to what’s known as the Elf affair,” says Nicolas Shaxson, author of Poisoned Wells: The Dirty Politics of African Oil.

“He was offering services to French political parties and to the intelligence services, in effect he was offering his country and oil industry as a kind of off-shore platform where these parties and intelligence services could do their dirty business away from prying eyes,” says Shaxson, who is also an Associate Fellow at Chatham House.

Bongo was examined as part of a US Senate Committee investigation that looked into payments to a lobbyist for arranging a meeting with former US President George W. Bush.

When asked if the death of the Gabonese leader was convenient for Bongo’s relatives and the French state, Perdriel-Vaissiére answered, “yes”.

Transparency International declined to comment and would not say whether they would be involved in another civil action against Bongo. In 2004 their Corruption Perceptions Index rated Gabon 3.3, A score of 10 is highly clean and 0 is highly corrupt.

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