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French court approves investigation into African leaders' assets

media Cour de Cassation, Paris

The top French appeals court on Tuesday authorised judges to investigate a corruption case involving three African heads of state and their relatives. Congo-Brazzaville’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema and Omar Bongo, the deceased president of Gabon, are accused of spending state funds on luxury assets in France.

“An investigating judge is going to be designated and a judicial investigation is going to be launched,” Maud Perdriel-Vaissière, of the French NGO Sherpa, told RFI.

“This judge will have to determine the conditions under which the assets in question were acquired, as well as how the numerous bank accounts identified by the police were accumulated,” Transparency International said in a statement.

The Cour de Cassation or Supreme Court overruled a decision by the Court of Appeal a year earlier which ruled that Transparency International was inadmissible as a civil party.

“This is amazing news and is going to create a precedent in French law. But not only in French law, because for the first time an association is allowed to launch proceedings in large corruption cases, so this is quite a major decision,” says lawyer Perdriel-Vaissière.

The highest court of justice decided to overrule the decision that was rendered nearly one year ago

Q&A - Maud Perdriel-Vaissière, Sherpa 09/11/2010 - by Laura Angela Bagnetto Listen

The case concerns assets in France thought to be worth around 160 million euros. It alleges that certain banks in France may have been involved in money laundering.

There had been some worries that the death of former Gabonese president Omar Bongo would mean the end of any legal action. However this ruling will mean the relatives of the leaders can also be investigated.

“They concern targets, not only heads of states, but also their family members and close associates,” says Perdriel-Vaissière.

“We are not focusing on the people we are focusing on the assets and what we want is to get them back,” she adds.

Perdriel-Vaissière says that this case will send the signal that “France is not the right place to invest”.

Furthermore, France is about to be examined by UNCAC, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

“This is interesting,” says Perdriel-Vaissière. “Because France is among the states that are going to reviewed this year,” she adds.

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