How sad; France halts African leaders case

(From left) Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang, Congo's President Denis Sassou-Nguesso and Gabon's late President Omar Bongo A French appeals court has sadly halted a lawsuit against three African leaders accused of embezzlement. Anti-corruption group Transparency International had accused the leaders of using African public funds to buy luxury homes and cars in France.

But the BBC reports that the court ruled the activists could not act against foreign heads of state.

This is a huge setback. The French case should have served as a test case that should spur African activists to hold their leaders to account using free western Institutions including court processes. Now this hope seems dashed. (Read AlsoThe New EFCC: Ribadu and El Rufai)

Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Republic of Congo, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and the late Omar Bongo of Gabon denied any wrongdoing.

The court’s ruling was welcomed by lawyers for Mr Nguema, who were quoted by Reuters news agency as saying it showed that “attempts to use the French justice system for obscure purposes are doomed to fail”.

 Those in France and Africa who organise and take advantage of the looting of African public money will be celebrating with champagne 
William Bourdon, lawyer

Nice harbour (generic image)

Police found the leaders owned luxury properties on the French Riviera

The case followed a 2007 French police investigation which found the leaders and their relatives owned homes in upmarket areas of Paris and on the Riviera along with luxury cars, including Bugattis, Ferraris and Maseratis.

Transparency International had argued that it was not possible that the men and their entourages had bought the assets through their legitimate salaries.

Last May, a French magistrate had ruled that the case, which became known as the “ill-gotten gains” case, was admissible in a French court.

But representatives of the leaders had contested that ruling, saying that as civil society activists, Transparency International had no right to act as plaintiffs against heads of state.


Transparency International said it would appeal against Thursday’s ruling.

“Those in France and Africa who organise and take advantage of the looting of African public money will be celebrating with champagne” said William Bourdon, a lawyer for the activists.

The organisation said it regretted the court’s “legally questionable” decision to throw out their case.

In a statement, it said the move was “all the more regrettable because it prevents the opening of a case even though there is no doubt that the holding identified by the police could not have been made solely with the salaries and fees of the targeted heads of state”.

The ruling showed that French law “still needs to evolve” to allow groups such as them to take legal action, it said.

“Without that, we will continue to deprive victims of corruption of an indispensable means to guarantee their rights.”

Gabon and Republic of Congo are former French colonies, while Equatorial Guinea is a growing oil exporter.

Mr Bongo – who was African’s longest-serving leader – died in June, but members of his family were also named in Transparency International’s case.

This is a very sad development. After noting that the recent travails of Ribadu and El Rufai provide a powerful tutorial to all students of power politics in Nigeria. In his book, Dreams of my Father, Barack Obama said, “power is unyielding and principles unstable”, and then “strong men exploit other men’s weaknesses”. In the words of Nuhu Ribadu, ‘when you fight corruption, corruption fights back’.

I wrote concerning this case on December 26, 2008:

“The El Rufai and Ribadu travails should teach us that the battle to tackle corruption and abuse of power and reclaim Nigeria from these predators will never come from government. It is left for Nigerian activists to arise and fight the war against corruption themselves. We should look up to France. French activists sued three African leaders for graft. Anti-corruption campaigners in France filed a suit against three African heads of state, accusing them of buying properties in France that could not be financed with their official earnings. Presidents Omar Bongo of Gabon, Dennis Sasso Nguesso of Congo Republic and Theodore Obong Nguema Mbasogo of Equatotial Guinea, whose countries export crude oil.

The campaigners, according to Reuters said they wanted to force the French justice system to look into how the three presidents were able to buy huge real estate portfolios. “There is no doubt that these assets could not be bought using only the official salaries and benefits of these heads of state.” The campaigners referred to a 2007 French police probe, details of which were leaked to media revealing their vast assets in France. Obiang’s son has faced a court case in South Africa over two luxury villas he owns there. Teodoro Nguema Obiang also came under fire from anti-graft campaigners in the United States in 2006 after he acquired a $35 million California beach house”.

This is a huge setback. The French case should have served as a test case that should spur African activists to hold their leaders to account using free western Institutions including court processes. Now this hope seems dashed.

In a Press release today captioned; Appealing for justice: three African presidents and their French assets –

Transparency International (France) and Sherpa deeply regret the decision rendered today by the Board of Education of the Court of Appeal of Paris in the case concerning the conditions under which a very important real estate and furniture has been acquired France by Mr. Denis Sassou Nguesso (Congo – Brazzaville) Omar Bongo, now deceased (Gabon), and Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo (Equatorial Guinea) and members of their entourage. 

The appellate judges have in effect reversed the decision last May 5 by the Dean of the judges in finding the dismissal of the complaint filed by TI France December 2 last

Transparency International (France) announced today its intention to lodge an appeal against a decision which seems legally questionable. 

The Board of Education decided not to confirm the order of the oldest judges even though the latter’s decision was consistent with the evolution of positive law.  

The most recent case law comes into effect to support the admissibility of the complaint filed by TI France.

The decision today shows that French law must still evolve to allow specialized associations to sue. Otherwise, we continue to deprive the victims of corruption to become an indispensable means to defend their rights

This decision is all the more regrettable that it prevents the initiation of a criminal even though he is no doubt that the assets identified by the police could be made only through wages and salaries Heads of States covered, about whom there are serious suspicions of embezzlement of public funds.

An investigation would establish the origin of funds used for the creation of wealth issue on French territory.

It would also shed light on the role played by various intermediaries, including financial.

Despite the decision date IT and Sherpa France wish to acknowledge the major breakthrough that is already this lawsuit. 

As evidenced by the many expressions of support, both in France and abroad, particularly in Africa the struggle to date has clearly helped to break a taboo on the issue of illegal assets from developing countries who find refuge in the North.A citizen of Gabon Ngbwa Mintsa Mr. Gregory was also a civil party, but his interest in acting had not been recognized. Pour des raisons tenant à sa sécurité, il n’avait pas souhaité faire appel. For reasons of security, he did not wish to call.

The Court of Cassation admits in effect for several years on the basis of Article 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the admissibility of the constitutions of some civil associations not preferred, when the offence denounced affects the collective interests that they have a statutory mission to defend.

See in particular the statement of support signed by 14 African Chapters of Transparency International to present the final general meeting of the movement, 17 and 18 October in Berlin.

In addition, our associations are convinced that sooner or later the issue of “ill-gotten gains” will eventually succeed, thereby advancing the implementation of the principle of restitution to the people of stolen assets by corrupt leaders, the central principle of United Nations Convention against Corruption.

The 3rd Conference of States Parties to this Convention, held in Doha (Qatar) from November 9 to 13 next, will also be an opportunity to strengthen enforcement. 

It is expected states to agree on establishing a credible monitoring mechanism able to verify the implementation of commitments made by the 140 signatories. 

This conference will provide a new and test the will of the international community to effectively advance the fight against corruption in the world.

A credible monitoring mechanism involves field visits made by other signatory states (peer review), taking into account the recommendations of evaluations of private sector and civil society (unions, NGOs) and establishing a transparent process (final reports and various contributions available to the public).