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France accuses BNP Paribas of laundering money for Gabonese PEPs

Chris Hamblin, Editor, London, 25 May 2021


French prosecutors have reportedly indicted BNP Paribas, the banking giant, with washing the proceeds of corruption from the oil-rich Francophone African state of Gabon, on behalf of some members of its ruling family.

In February BNP was ranked as the eighth largest bank in the world, with assets of US$2,946 billion. It allegedly ran a bank account that was used between 2002 and 2009 on behalf of the Bongos to buy up property in France as a means of parking various ill-gotten gains. It is alleged that it ought to have reported this account to the authorities, along with the extensive use of cashier's cheques. The bank is thought to have played a leading role in the proceedings. A spokeswoman declined to comment when Compliance Matters contacted the bank.

Omar Bongo ruled Gabon between 1967 and 2009, when he died. The current president is his son, Ali Bongo Ondimba.

Professionals in the firing line

Details of the case - to be found in the British and French press - are sketchy. No report says that Ali Bongo himself is involved. One report says that the authorities are prosecuting two notaries and a lawyer - possibly some of them French - but not the Bongo family; it also says that people from Congo-Brazzaville's Nguesso family are under investigation, but not prosecution.

The 12 properties in question, bought through a French property company, are thought to have cost €32 million. Agence France-Presse has written: "According to a 2017 investigation report, already implicating BNP, €52 million passed between 1997 and 2009 between [the real-estate refurbishment company that acquired property for the Bongos] and its subsidiary."

The hoard of the Bongos

The probe into the Bongos has been going on since 2010, according to one report. RFI reported in 2016 that the authorities had seized properties allegedly belonging to the family (through a front company) on the orders of French judges. One was a villa in Nice; another a mansion in Paris' exclusive 16th arrondissement. RFI also said that the Bongos were at war with each other over Omar Bongo's hundreds of millions, many of which were lodged in secret bank accounts in Monaco and in luxury properties scattered throughout the world.

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