France files graft charges against children of late Gabonese leader Omar Bongo
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Four children of Gabon's late president Omar Bongo have been charged in France with embezzlement and corruption, a source familiar with the case said on Thursday.
The siblings – Grace, Betty, Arthur and Hermine Bongo, all in their 50s – were charged between 25 March and 5 April by financial investigators.
The allegations include concealing embezzlement of public funds, corruption and misuse of company assets.
Investigators believe members of the Bongo dynasty – including Omar, his son Ali, 64, who is now President of Gabon, and his daughter Pascaline, 66 – knowingly benefited from a fraudulently acquired real estate empire worth at least 85 million euros.
All four of Omar Bongo's children, who have now been charged, denied any knowledge of the allegedly fraudulent origins of the assets, the source said.
Properties in Paris
They told investigators they had received the properties – apartments in the well-heeled 15th and 16th districts of Paris – as gifts from their father between 1995 and 2004.
Grace Bongo's lawyer Elise Arfi said that it was "scandalous" that her client had been charged 25 years after acquiring the properties in question.
France's 15-year-old probe into "ill-gotten gains" originating from its former African colonies saw major bank BNP Paribas charged last year.
A further 14 people are under investigation, including relatives of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo, as well as several French individuals, among them a lawyer, a notary and a manager of a real-estate holding company.
"This process is now showing the extent to which French properties could only be fraudulently obtained with the help of accounting and legal engineers" in France, said William Bourdon, a lawyer for Transparency International France, which is a co-plaintiff in the case.
Omar Bongo, a close French ally, ruled the oil-rich state from 1967 until his death in 2009, when he was succeeded by his son Ali.
He had 54 children, more of whom may also face charges, the source said.