The saga of the “ill-gotten gains” has been ongoing for about fifteen years. Between seizures, indictments, and suspicions of corruption, the case of “ill-gotten gains” has long been associated with the Bongo name in France. However, since the coup d’état on August 30th, uncertainty looms over the fate of the proceedings. Recently, there was a new twist in the saga: communist officials in the city of Paris declared their intention to convert these assets into social housing.
What is the real story behind this?
Let’s go back in time. In 2007, the NGO Transparency International filed a complaint. They suspected the Bongo family of having acquired real estate in France fraudulently, under the tenure of Omar Bongo as the President of Gabon. Investigators indeed found several apartments—21 in Paris and 7 in Nice. These were described as “exceptional assets” by real estate agents. The ones in the capital are all located in the “Golden Triangle,” between the Champs Élysées and the Latin Quarter. These are Haussmann-style mansions spanning hundreds of square meters, valued by investigators at €85 million.
Assets Stemming from “Misappropriation of Public Funds”
These sumptuous apartments are considered by the judiciary to be “ill-gotten gains.” In a February 2022 ruling, the Paris Court of Appeals declared that these properties were acquired with “money stemming from the misappropriation of public funds” and from the “corruption of oil companies, including Elf Aquitaine, now TotalEnergies.”
Since then, the assets have been seized by the judiciary, and nine of Omar Bongo’s children have been indicted, including Pascaline Bongo, his former chief of staff. They face charges of aiding and abetting misappropriation of public funds, active and passive corruption, money laundering, and abuse of corporate assets. Ali Bongo, on the other hand, has never been questioned by the judiciary as he enjoyed immunity related to his position. This provision is no longer applicable now that he is no longer the head of state, although it remains uncertain what consequences this may have.
The investigation is still ongoing, but according to a source close to the case, it could conclude “before next summer.”
Legal Obligation for Restitution
The “ill-gotten gains” have once again come into the spotlight in recent days. Last week, the television channel BFMTV reported that communist officials in the city of Paris wanted to convert these sumptuous apartments into social housing. This proposal has raised concerns within the Gabonese government. Mays Mouissi, the Minister of Economy and Partnerships in the transitional government, immediately responded on social media: “On what grounds would assets presumed to be ill-gotten gains at the expense of the Gabonese people become the property of the city of Paris, to the point of considering transforming them into social housing, without even consulting the Gabonese authorities?”