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

    Republicans Struggle With Reality of Trump Nomination

    Despite calls for unity by presumptive presidential nominee, analysts see inevitable fragmentation of party ahead of November election and beyond

    Spanish Warrants Point to Russian Govt. Links to Organized Crime

    Links to several Russians, some of them reputedly close Putin associates, backed by ‘very strong evidence,’ Spanish judge says

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    Iraq needs stable, central government to push back against Islamic State, US says, but others warn that Baghdad may not have unified front any time soon

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    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.
    Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limitedi
    X
    Katie Arnold
    May 04, 2016 12:31 PM
    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.
    Video

    Video Elephant Summit Results in $5M in Pledges, Presidential Support

    Attended and supported by three African presidents, a three-day anti-poaching summit has concluded in Kenya, resulting in $5 million in pledges and a united message to the world that elephants are worth more alive than dead. The summit culminated at the Nairobi National Park with the largest ivory burn in history. VOA’s Jill Craig attended the summit and has this report about the outcomes.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora