|Stolen Assets on the Line|
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Recently Transparency International (TI) won an appeal to the French Supreme Court that ruled that an investigating judge can open a judicial inquiry into how several African dictators and their families’ assets were acquired. The dictators and their families had spent extravagant sums in France and TI and the organisation SHERPA have been fighting since 2007 to have this investigated further. The first port of call for the investigative judge may well be the banks that handled these transactions.
Omar Bongo Ondimba (Former President of Gabon, now deceased) is reported to have had 39 properties, seventeen registered in his own name and many located in the chic 16th arondissement in Paris. He also had 70 (identified) bank accounts, 11 of which were in his own name. He spent huge amounts on a fleet of cars estimated to be worth nearly $2 million. Investigators found that his wife Edith (and daughter of Congo-Brazzaville’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso) bought a luxury car on a Banque de France account held by the Gabonese Public Treasury which should have raised more than an eye brow and red flag or two along the way.
Denis Sassou Nguesso President of Congo-Brazzaville was also cited as having eighteen properties, and 112 bank accounts while the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Mbasogo and his relatives were also listed as having made luxurious purchases in France.
Transparency International hope that the investigation will ‘contribute to uncovering the truth and in due course lead to the implementation of the law of restitution’ of the allegedly stolen funds.’ It is a big win for TI who had to file a civil suit to reach this point.
In a separate case the President of Cameroon is also facing accusations of corruption for allegedly buying millions of euros worth of property in France with embezzled funds.
These cases illustrate perfectly the high levels of risks that some financial institutions still seem willing to take when it comes to dealing with PEPs (politically exposed persons), especially those who are located in high risk jurisdictions. But the real question is why weren’t they managing that risk effectively? Whilst it is impossible to know definitively it could be that they were not sufficiently sensitised to the risk or that even knowing the risks they felt unable to question their clients further for fear of losing lucrative relationships. The investigation may now reveal some of the answers.
The opinions expressed do not constitute investment advice and specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
Published on our website on Nov.29, 2010