News / Africa

Investigations Underway into Corruption and Embezzlement in West Africa

Equatorial Guinea's long-time, autocratic President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, April, 4, 2012.
Equatorial Guinea's long-time, autocratic President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, April, 4, 2012.
Anne Look
So-called "ill-gotten gains" investigations are underway into several current and former ruling families from West and Central Africa.

Senegal's new government has launched a landmark investigation into several key figures from the former government, while justice officials in the United States and France continue to investigate the foreign assets of African heads of state and their families who are accused of embezzling money from public coffers back home.  
Dakar has reportedly filed a complaint with a Paris court to investigate the origins of assets held in France by an undisclosed list of high-profile figures associated with the former Senegalese government.
The complaint recalls those filed by French and African anti-corruption NGOs (non-governmental agencies) beginning in 2007 that sparked on-going investigations in France into the wealth of sitting presidents of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of Congo and their family members. They are alleged to have used embezzled public money to bankroll at-times lavish lifestyles in France.  
Teodorin Obiang, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, in particular, has made headlines since 2011 as French and American authorities have seized tens of millions of dollars of his assets abroad. A display of wealth that one analyst told VOA went far beyond Obiang's government salary and was "so obscene" it could not be ignored - luxury cars, mansions, a jet, $2-million dollars of Michael Jackson memorabilia.
France issued an arrest warrant for Obiang after he failed to appear for questioning in July. Equatorial Guinea has, in turn, taken France to the International Court of Justice to stop the corruption case and named Obiang as second vice-president in what some observers say was an attempt to provide immunity from prosecution.
What's different about the move made by Senegalese authorities in France is that it comes as part of concurrent investigations by authorities within Senegal.
Maud Perdriel-Vaissière of Sherpa, one of the French NGOs behind complaints filed against those three other presidential families, says collaboration between the two jurisdictions involved -- in this case, Senegal and France -- is "ideal."
She says the simple fact that a foreign public official has a certain asset on French or American soil does not necessarily mean that it was obtained illegally. That must be proven, something that she said is already difficult but is made even harder when French authorities do not have the cooperation of the official's home country, as is the case with Equatorial Guinea.
And the more time that goes by, she said, the harder it is to find assets and track down proof of any wrongdoing.  
In Dakar, Karim Wade, the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, has met with Senegalese investigators a total of four times since his father lost a March 24 run-off election.
He emerged from one marathon interrogation session at a military police station in Dakar on November 15 amid a crush of supporters.
It was after this meeting that authorities kept him from leaving Senegal pending further investigations.
Karim Wade is one of seven prominent figures from the Wade government being questioned as part of efforts by the new government of Macky Sall to increase accountability and crackdown on corruption.

Senegal's Justice Minister Aminata Toure says the government is trying to find out what happened with public money in the course of this past 12 years.

"Because we do know of a lot of financial scandals that occurred over the years so definitely there is a big demand from the people to know how public spending occurred and what happened with public money," said Toure…. "This is also a good lesson for the incumbents -- I'm one of them -- that we have to handle public money very carefully if we don't want to find ourselves in the very same situation."  
A banker by trade, Karim Wade held several high-profile positions during his father's 12 years in office.  
President Wade put his son in charge of a "super-ministry" that included air transport, infrastructure and international cooperation. Senegalese jokingly referred to him as "the Minister of the Earth and the Sky."
Investigations into members of the former government are being conducted by a special anti-corruption court called the Court for the Repression of Illicit Enrichment that was voted into law in 1981 and revived by the new administration.  
Justice Minister Toure said they are still in the "investigation phase." No charges have been filed.
"When the prosecutor does have strong leads that corruption might have occurred they can call anyone to explain so that person can explain herself or himself," Toure said. "That's where we are. On the other hand, the prosecutor would collect information to build his case like in every court. The specificity for this law is that the person who is called has one month to justify that his or her assets were legally acquired … after that month, if the explanations are not convincing, that person can be indicted for illegal enrichment."  
Supporters of Wade and the former ruling PDS party have denounced the investigations as a political witch hunt. Former president Wade has said they are unfair and threatened to retaliate with legal action of his own.
Some Senegalese say that they just don't see the point of digging into the past.  
Mamadou Souleymane says so maybe Karim Wade or others stole, but why get into all of this and why aren't they also looking into the current president, who was part of the former government for a while? He says other problems are more important. He says they are still waiting on the jobs the new government promised but instead it's just audits, audits, audits.
Anti-corruption watchdogs said that high-level corruption investigations currently going on in Senegal, France and beyond are meant to send a message that no one is above the law.
Experts say the actual investigations can drag on for years. They are complex and costly. Money must often be tracked through countless offshore bank accounts and shell companies and then directly linked to evidence of corruption.
The ultimate goal is often asset recovery -- returning embezzled or illegally obtained wealth to public coffers where it can fund the schools, hospitals or roads for which it was intended. That's not only another long, complex and costly process but expert say authorities must also weigh whether returned assets won't just be stolen again.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs