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    France Investigating African Money Laundering

    Lisa Bryant

    A French magistrate has decided to investigate claims that three African leaders invested millions of dollars in embezzled funds in property and other goods in France.  The three leaders in question are Omar Bongo of Gabon, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Republic of Congo and Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.

    The complaint against the leaders of Gabon, Republic of Congo and Equatorial Guinea was filed by corruption watchdog group Transparency International, last December.  It is not the first such complaint against the leaders, but it is the first that investigating magistrate Francoise Desset has decided to take up.

    Daniel Lebegue, president of Transparency International's French chapter, calls the decision significant.

    "It's the first time our organization, Transparency International, is recognized by a judge to act vis-à-vis acting presidents or ministers - in this case African presidents - and the judge considers we are legitimate in doing so.  So that's really a historical decision, opening new perspectives to fight against corruption ... and opening the way to recovering ... stolen assets by corrupt politicians, or ministers or heads of state," said Lebegue.

    The prosecutor's office, which previously opposed taking the case, now has five days to appeal the decision.  But, even if it does, the magistrate can still move forward in his probe.

    Transparency International claims the three African leaders invested millions of dollars in luxury property, cars and other goods in France, using money that rightfully belonged to their people. President Omar Bongo, of Gabon, has already denied those charges.

    However the case evolves, Transparency International's Lebegue says the magistrate's decision has given his group the legitimacy to press other claims against corrupt leaders, elsewhere in the world. 

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