Gabon‘s late president Omar Bongo allegedly pocketed millions in embezzled funds from central African states, channelling some of it to French political parties in support of Nicolas Sarkozy, according to a US embassy cable published by El País.
A senior official at the Bank of Central African States (Beac) told a US diplomat in Cameroon of Bongo’s “brazen” defrauding of the bank which holds the pooled reserves of six central African countries, including Gabon, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Shortly after Bongo’s death in 2009, the US embassy in Yaounde said the bank source told them: “Gabonese officials used the proceeds for their own enrichment and, at Bongo’s direction, funnelled funds to French political parties, including in support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.”
The cable, released by WikiLeaks, continued: “Asked what the officials did with the stolen funds, the Beac official responded, ‘sometimes they kept it for themselves, sometimes they funnelled it to French political parties.’ Asked who received the funds, the official responded, ‘both sides, but mostly the right; especially Chirac and including Sarkozy.’ The Beac official said ‘Bongo was France’s favourite president in Africa,’ and ‘this is classic Françafrique.'”
The secret cable also detailed how the Gabonese Beac governor had secretly placed €500m in high-risk investment with French bank Société Générale.
It concluded that the US embassy was “unable to assess the veracity of the allegation that French politicians benefitted from Beac’s loss”.
Bongo, who came to power in 1967 with French help, was the world’s longest-ruling head of state, apart from the British and Thai monarchies. He was succeeded last year by his son Ali, who was said by the cable to also have “benefited from the embezzlement”.
The Bongo clan is one of three families of African leaders currently under investigation in Paris over whether they embezzled state funds to acquire vast assets in France, including bank accounts, Riviera villas and fleets of luxury cars. Known as “the case of ill-gotten gains”, the legal battle launched by the anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, seeks to unravel the shadowy and privileged relations between French leaders and African rulers known as “Françafrique”. The Bongo family have denied wrongdoing in the case.
The Elysée has said it will not comment directly on cables released by WikiLeaks.