Ferraris to flats, an African story

Acquisitions in France by five heads of state or their families raise suspicions.

    African citizens residing in France intend to file a civil complaint against
    the presidents they accuse of embezzlement and corruption

    The list is an impressive one. A stylish manor worth $21 million, numerous prestige flats and countless luxury cars – all paid for in cash and all listed in the names of five African heads of state or their families.

    The details of the acquisitions were part of a dossier created for a French investigating magistrate that Al Jazeera was granted access to.

    The documents were gathered by police after a group of NGOs launched an anti-corruption case against Omar Bongo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, Blaise Compaore, Eduardo dos Santos and Teodoro Obiang – the presidents of Gabon, Congo Brazzaville, Burkina Faso, Angola and Equatorial Guinea.

    The civil suit has already been dismissed once by French courts, but the activists stand by their allegations that a list of multi-million dollar French properties and luxury cars were bought by the African heads of state.

    Among the documents are property titles, cheques, transfer orders and bills sent by luxury car dealers showing an extremely expensive lifestyle that seems suspicious to investigators and anti-corruption activists.

    There is a copy of a cheque of 390,000 euro for a car delivered to the wife of Bongo for her personal use. The money has been directly debited to the Gabon treasury's account in France.


    In the seventh arrondissement, one of the wealthiest and most expensive parts of Pairs, the ruling family of Congo Brazzaville decided to make more investments in real estate in the past month.

    The wife and the son of Denis Sassou Nguesso, the president, decided to buy two flats on one street for a total of $7.2 million.


    Strong suspicion


    William Bourdon, a prominent French lawyer, told Al Jazeera that all the purchases "can't have been financed by the sweat of those heads of state".

    "Neither their children or their cousins are known for their brilliant trading or business skills," he said.

    "There is a strong suspicion that the money paying for all that is coming from the theft of public money. The World Bank, the IMf and the UN regularly denounce the corruption of some African leaders."


    The public display of personal wealth abroad by the presidents when the living conditions of their own citizens are largely below the poverty line is causing anger and dismay.


    "It is outrageous, we're angry at those in charge of the the country and who can't seem to be able to buy a school bench for the kids, put electricity in towns for people to have light, who can't set up a water system so that people have drinking water,”  Serge Moutsila of the Congolese diaspora federation, said.

    "Why do they buy Ferraris when there aren't any roads in the country? What's the point?"


    African citizens residing in France intend to file a civil complaint against the presidents they accuse of embezzlement and corruption. The French banks and businesses which dealt with the personalities on trial could also face money laundering charges.


    Al Jazeera contacted the Paris embassies of Angola, Burkina Faso, Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

    Angola, Burkina Faso and Gabon denied the charges. The others declined to comment.


    'A tragedy'


    Transparency International UK (TI UK) is an organisation that attempts to challenge corruption around the world.


    Laurence Cockcroft, TI UK's chairman, told Al Jazeera: "The international community is beginning to clampdown on this through a variety of international instruments.


    "But the instruments themselves are not enough. We need to implement them effectively not only in those countries that are being plundered but also in those countries that are receiving resources as well.


    "It's a tragedy, especially for a continent that is living in dire poverty."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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