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

    Russian-speaking Muslim Exiles Fear Possible Russia-Turkey Thaw

    Exiled from Russia as Islamic radicals and extremists, thousands found asylum in Turkey

    US Presidential Election Ends at Conventions for Territorial Citizens

    Citizens of US territories like Guam or Puerto Rico enjoy participation in US political process but are denied right to vote for president

    UN Syria Envoy: 'Devil Is in the Details' of Russian Aleppo Proposal

    UN uncertain about the possible humanitarian impact of Russian proposal to establish escape corridors in Aleppo

    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.
    Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Busi
    X
    July 28, 2016 4:16 AM
    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Uganda Unveils its First Solar-powered Bus

    A solar-powered bus described by its Ugandan makers as the first in Africa has made its public debut. Kiira Motors' electric bus, Kayoola, displayed recently at a stadium in Uganda's capital. From Kampala, Maurice Magorane filed this report narrated by Salem Solomon.
    Video

    Video Silicon Valley: More Than A Place, It's a Culture

    Silicon Valley is a technology powerhouse and a place that companies such as Google, Facebook and Apple call home. It is a region in northern California that stretches from San Francisco to San Jose. But, more than that, it's known for its startup culture. VOA's Elizabeth Lee went inside one company to find out what it's like to work in a startup.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Philadelphia Uses DNC Spotlight to Profile Historic Role in Founding of United States

    The slogan of the Democratic National Convention now underway in Philadelphia is “Let’s Make History Again” which recognizes the role the city played in the foundation of the United States in the 18th century. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, local institutions are opening their doors in an effort to capitalize on the convention spotlight to draw visitors, and to offer more than just a history lesson.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora