Tuesday, June 14, 2011

For One African Leader: 7 Ferraris, 4 Mercedes-Benzes, 5 Bentleys, 4 Rolls-Royces, 2 Bugattis, 1 Aston Martin, 1 Porsche, 1 Lamborghini, & 1 Maserati

Africa's "Ill-Gotten Gains" Are Embarrassing France, writes Le Monde on its front page, as it emerges that a Paris investigation into the matter has been at least partly squelched. As Philippe Bernard explains,
Threats to the ongoing judicial investigation on their alleged "ill-gotten gains" acquired in France have not tempered their taste for luxury. The stockpiling of luxuries and swanky cars, by three African presidents mentioned in the 2008 complaint filed in Paris by the organization Transparency International France (TIF) for "concealment of embezzled public funds", has continued unabated, as if they felt untouchable.
Revealed by documents which Le Monde has seen, the list of recent acquisitions by the Bongo (Gabon), the Sassou Nguesso (Congo), and the Obiang (Equatorial Guinea) families makes the head spin. These lavish purchases take on a new political dimension in the context of the Arab revolutions where the dictators' personal enrichment fueled popular anger.

Police officers from the Office central pour la répression de la grande délinquance financière (OCRGDF), instructed by investigating Paris judges Roger Le Loire and René Grouman, thus established that Ali Bongo, son of the late Omar Bongo, acquired a Bentley in France in 2009, a few months before being elected President of Gabon, following the death of his father in June of that year. The police say that the choice of Mr. Bongo, current head of a state with 20% of the population living on less than $2 a day, fell on a Continental Flying Speed model. The 2.5 ton car, capable of reaching 322 km/h, costs over 200,000 Euros.

The family of Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of Congo-Brazzaville, is far from lagging behind: while in France in early 2010, his wife Antoinette acquired an E-class Mercedes registered in the name of the Diplomatic Corps. As for Wilfrid Nguesso, the nephew of the head of state and boss of the Congolese shipping company responsible to Brazzaville for collecting taxes from tankers of Congolese oil, he set his sights in October 2009 on a Porsche Panamera turbo (priced at 137,000 Euros).

But the most stupefying find of the police concerns Teodoro Nguema Obiang, 41, son and near-namesake Teodoro Obiang Nguema, 69, who has reigned over Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist since 1979, and who happens to be the current president of the African Union (AU). Customs investigators have established that in November 2009, "26 luxury cars and six motorcycles […] for a value of almost $12 million were shipped to Marne's Vatry airport from the United States [by Teodoro Obiang Nguema] for re-export to Equatorial Guinea."

The lot included 7 Ferraris, 4 Mercedes-Benzes, 5 Bentleys, 4 Rolls-Royces, 2 Bugattis, 1 Aston Martin, 1 Porsche, 1 Lamborghini, and 1 Maserati. … The tastes of Obiang Junior are not confined to luxury cars. A Tracfin (the government's anti-money laundering unit) alert, dated March 7, 2011, reports that the Malabo dictator's son "purchased 109 lots for a total of 18,347,952.30 euros" [during] the sale of the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé [shareholder of Le Monde] collection" in February 2009 organized by Christie's France. The endless inventory of antiques acquired is breathtaking: from the 17th-century "scarlet bull" costing 298,604 Euros to the 112,724-Euro "coconut cup", through the 744,716-Euro "bronze Hermaphrodite figure".

…The quite logical conclusion of the Tracfin investigators reads thusly: "Given the positions that the person concerned holds in Equatorial Guinea and the particularity of charging his purchases of works of art to the Somagui company [of which he is director], the presence of 'ill-gotten gains' could be suspected." Mr. Obiang's need for so many works of art becomes clear when you discover that he has no fewer than six homes, including one in Malibu (California), one in Ville d'Avray (Yvelines), and another on Avenue Foch (Paris). According to a witness quoted by Sherpa, a group of lawyers leading the case, his Paris abode extends over four levels and includes several dozen rooms, including "a dining room in coral and a Turquerie with Lalique panels."
Aussi dans Le Monde :

Biens mal acquis : deux magistrats instructeurs désignés (AFP)

Biens mal acquis : une enquête vise le président du Cameroun (AFP)

L'arrêt sur les biens mal acquis ouvre des perspectives pour les ONG anticorruption (Philippe Bernard)

Biens mal acquis : l'enquête empêchée (Éditorial dans Le Monde)