Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Son of Congo president Denis Nguesso indicted for money laundering in France

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A son of Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso has been indicted in France on money-laundering charges in a probe into the family’s foreign assets, a source close to the case told AFP on Friday.

Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, 45, was charged by the French investigating magistrate in December 2019, the source added, the first time the charges have been revealed.

His father has ruled the Republic of Congo, a former French colony also called Congo-Brazzaville, for the last 36 years and plans to contest elections again in 2021.

Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, known in Congo as “Kiki,” was until 2016 the number two in the powerful national oil company SNPC.

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An investigation by French authorities started several years ago, and in 2017 a daughter of the president and her husband — Julienne Sassou Nguesso and Guy Johnson — were charged along with two nephews.

Property assets – including two Paris apartments owned by the president’s wife Antoinette — have been confiscated as part of the investigation.

The probe, opened in 2009 after a complaint brought by three associations, is also looking into assets of the family of Gabonese President Ali Bongo Ondimba.

Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema, is appealing a three-year suspended prison sentence handed down in France in 2017 for using public money to fund a jet-set lifestyle.

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Paris has long been a favoured destination for the ill-gotten gains of wealthy figures linked to political leaders in Africa, particularly in France’s former colonies. Campaigners hope that the latest investigations signal a new willingness of French authorities to tackle money laundering.

The Republic of Congo is struggling with an image of corruption and mismanagement. It rated 165th out of 180 states on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index. On Monday, the investigative NGO Global Witness said the SNPC — the Societe Nationale des Petroles du Congo — had at least $2.7 billion in previously undisclosed debts to oil majors.

Global Witness, which analysed a trove of documents, said the debts could end up on the state’s books. If so public debt, which hit 119 per cent of GDP in 2016 and then fell to 86 per cent, would balloon to as much as 115 per cent.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last July granted Congo, a major oil exporter, a credit line of $448.6 million after its economy was battered by a years-long slump in the price of crude. The country has been unable to repay its creditors on agreed terms and timetables since 2015 at least.

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