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Gabonese Leader's Death Sparks Controversy in France


The death of Gabonese leader Omar Bongo has sparked controversy in France, as a former French president accused Mr. Bongo of corruption and anti-corruption groups press for embezzlement charges that implicate him.

As tributes continue to pour in after the death of longtime Gabonese President Omar Bongo, allegations of questionable deals he might have been involved in are simmering in France.

In an interview on French radio, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing claimed Mr. Bongo might have illegally funded the presidential campaign of his then rival, Jacques Chirac.

The former French leader said he called Mr. Bongo to find out whether the allegations were true. He said he broke off contact with Mr. Bongo when he found out that the information was true.

Meanwhile, two French groups say they will pursue corruption charges they filed this year against Mr. Bongo and the leaders of the Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea. The groups - Sherpa and Transparency International - accuse the two presidents of using millions of dollars of embezzled public funds to buy luxury homes and cars in France.

Maude Pedriel works for Sherpa, a French jurist association. "The main obstacle is that you cannot prosecute dead people, so there is no more legal action against Omar Bongo. But the case also targets an important number of Bongo relatives and close associates," he said.

Mr. Bongo was a staunch ally of Gabon's former colonial power, France.

In addition to her accusations against the former African leader, Pedriel says she is worried about Gabon's future now that Mr. Bongo is dead. "We are sorry because, what next? I am quite scared of what is to come. France knew how to deal with Omar Bongo, but we still do not know what is going to come next. It might be worse for the Gabonese population," he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy joined leaders around the world in expressing condolences for Mr. Bongo's death.

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