After the father, Omar Bongo (deceased in 2009), the turn of the children. French justice has just indicted four of them: Grace, Betty, Arthur and Hermine Bongo, all suspected of having taken advantage “knowingly” real estate acquired by the family of the President of Gabon in Paris and on the Côte d’Azur, via embezzlement of public funds. At a time when the wealth and investments of the Russian oligarchs are the focus of all attention in Europe and the United States, this case takes on particular importance.
→ THE FACTS. “Ill-gotten gains”: children of former Gabonese president Omar Bongo indicted in France
The genesis of the “ill-gotten gains” case
This is yet another rebound in the so-called “ill-gotten gains” affair, both a source of hope for NGOs engaged in the fight against corruption and of diplomatic tensions between Paris and several countries on the African continent. . Initiated by a simple report concocted by two members of the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development (CCFD), followed by a complaint filed by several NGOs, an investigation was opened by the Paris prosecutor’s office in 2010. It targets the leaders three countries: Gabon of Omar Bongo, Congo-Brazzaville of Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Equatorial Guinea of Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
→ REREAD. “Ill-gotten gains”: Teodorin Obiang definitively sentenced by French justice
The affair will in particular poison the last years of Omar Bongo, the president of Gabon, who dies in 2009. Co-opted by de Gaulle in the 1960s and always ready to render service to the former colonial power, this leader who confused blithely the coffers of the State with his personal funds never understood what the French justice reproached him with.
Fortunes with opaque financing
Seized in particular by Transparency International, an NGO committed to the fight against corruption, the justice system considers that the property acquired in France by these leaders and their families was fraudulently acquired. The value of the entire Bongo family heritage in France is assessed “at least 85 million euros” by the French courts. A fortune beyond measure with the official emoluments of the late President Omar Bongo: €15,000 monthly.
In reality, as the sprawling trial of the Elf affair in the early 2000s clearly showed, the Bongo clan took advantage of the hidden funds paid for years by the oil company, since absorbed by Total. Just like, moreover, the whole of the French political class of the time. In addition, justice is investigating the entire chain of intermediaries who, from banks to notaries, through lawyers and real estate companies, have benefited from these embezzlement of funds from Africa.
The current untouchable president of Gabon
The four Bongo children indicted in Paris all challenged before the judge that they had knowledge of the conditions for acquiring these properties. A surprising line of defense insofar as the case of “ill-gotten gains” has been widely publicized in France, but also in the countries concerned, with outraged denials.
In addition to the four children of the late Omar Bongo recently indicted, two key figures in the Gabonese regime are in the sights of French justice: Pascaline Bongo, ex-minister and former chief of staff of her father, who had his hand on the safe -strong power; but also, and above all, the current president Ali Bongo, at the head of Gabon since 2009. As such, the latter benefits from an immunity which makes him, for the moment, untouchable. This is not the case for one of her sisters, Betty: the courts have just ordered the seizure of an apartment in her name located in the 15th arrondissement of Paris, worth €750,000.
Denis, Teodoro and the others…
The Bongos are not the only ones to be worried in this case. Several properties belonging to the family of Congolese leader Denis Sassou-Nguesso have been confiscated in recent years by French justice. Same fate for the mansion of more than 4,000 m2 located avenue Foch, in Paris, owned by the family of the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang. This extraordinary property had a nightclub, a hairdresser and luxurious furniture seized by the investigators. Just like the Ferraris, Bentleys and other Lamborghinis at the wheel of which the son of the president paraded in the streets of Paris.
A fifteen year saga
March 28, 2007. Several associations are filing a complaint in Paris for concealment of embezzlement of public funds involving several African heads of state and members of their families.
November 9, 2010. The Court of Cassation authorizes the opening of an investigation targeting three African leaders.
April 22, 2016. Real estate in Paris and Nice, belonging to the family of Gabonese President Ali Bongo, is seized.
March 25-April 5, 2022. Four of Omar Bongo’s 54 children are indicted for “Concealment of embezzlement of public funds, active and passive corruption and abuse of corporate assets”.