• France's news in English
 

African dirty cash scandal rocks France

AFP · 13 Sep 2011, 11:11

Published: 13 Sep 2011 11:11 GMT+02:00

African leaders gave French former president Jacques Chirac and possible presidential candidate Dominique de Villepin $20 million in cash, including to finance elections, a lawyer said Monday.

The money came from several presidents of France's former African colonies, and was handed over by himself to the centre-right politicians in stages between 1995 and 2005, Robert Bourgi said in an interview with Europe 1 radio.  

Insisting he was coming forward now because he wanted a "clean France", Bourgi said the system of kickbacks had also existed under former presidents Georges Pompidou, Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Francois Mitterrand.  

He said he could not estimate how much had been handed over before he became directly involved, but could speak about the deliveries he said he had made to Chirac's office when he was mayor of Paris and later to Villepin.  

"I'd estimate at around $20 million what I handed to Mr Chirac and to Dominique de Villepin," he told Europe 1, fleshing out the detail of claims he had already made in a newspaper interview that appeared on Sunday.  

The allegations, which were furiously denied by Chirac and Villepin, come just seven months before France's presidential election, in which President Nicolas Sarkozy could face a Villepin challenge from within the right.  

Villepin, a suave diplomat best remembered for leading the charge against the Iraq war at the United Nations in 2003, has said the revelations are aimed at derailing his presidential bid.  

Bourgi, an unofficial long-time pointman between French and African leaders, catalogued what he said were lavish gifts bestowed by African rulers on their counterparts in Paris, including memorabilia to noted Napoleon Bonaparte fan Villepin.  

On Sunday, Bourgi detailed other gifts, including a watch with 200 diamonds given to Chirac by Bongo.  

"A splendid object but difficult to wear in France," Bourgi said. 

Bourgi also alleged other French politicians took African cash.

On Monday he claimed in a French television interview that the former head of the far-right National Front party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, financed part of his 1988 presidential campaign with money from Gabon's ex-president Omar Bongo.  

Le Pen denied the claims, saying they were "false... ridiculous," and said he would file a defamation complaint against Bourgi.

"If this Mr. Bourgi was charged with giving me these funds, he must have kept them for himself," Le Pen told BFM television, adding that he thinks Bourgi is being guided by Sarkozy.

Bourgi is widely reported to be close to Sarkozy, but insisted in the interview that he was neither an official nor unofficial advisor to the president, simply someone who was sometimes consulted for an opinion.

While Bourgi has been at pains to stress that such practices did not continue under Sarkozy, who gave him the prestigious Legion d'Honneur award in 2007, a former aide to Chirac said on Monday that "nothing stopped with Sarkozy".

"Bourgi worked tirelessly for Sarkozy with numerous African heads of state during the 2007 presidential election," Jean-Francois Probst told Le Parisien daily.

He "went to Libreville as early as July 2007 and made a new deal with Omar Bongo, who, they say, gave him a billion African francs (over €1.5 million)", Probst said.

The suggestion that payments had stopped under Sarkozy is "not credible, it's even the biggest lie of his life", Probst said. 

An advisor to former Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, Bernard Houdin, said that such payments were "a historical practice" and that "the sums mentioned are no doubt below reality".

Chirac and Villepin have said they will lodge lawsuits against Bourgi, who described himself as "repentant" after having for years taken part in "the dark side of Francafrique", a French term describing the country's sometimes murky relations with its former colonies in Africa.

Asked what African leaders got in exchange for their cash, Bourgi said:

"Lies, lies, lies, unkept promises, meaning that France would close its eyes to certain abuses of power in Africa."

Bourgi admitted that he had no proof to back up his allegations, while a former minister from Sarkozy's UMP party, also a lawyer, said he was shocked by the revelations as they implicated Bourgi himself.

"I'm surprised because Mr Bourgi is seriously incriminating himself," Patrick Devedjian told LCI television.

"He will have to give a serious account to justice, beyond defamation."

The Paris bar association said on Monday it had opened an ethical inquiry into the truth of the missions that lawyer Bourgi said he carried out.

Burkina Faso meanwhile rejected as "grotesque" allegations that its president was among African leaders who gave money for Chirac's election campaign.

"It is an absolutely grotesque statement by someone who ... wants to crucify his former friends because of problems of positioning in French politics," Alain Edouard Traore, a spokesman for the government of President Blaise Compaore, told journalists.

"I really don't see what we, Burkina Faso, have to do with this French story. Let them sort out their own problems," he said.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
French storms leave one dead and 70,000 in dark
A gas tank explodes near Montauban after being struck by a falling tree. Photo: Screengrab BFMTV

French storms leave one dead and 70,000 in dark

28 minutes ago

The violent storms that lashed swathes of south west and central France on Monday night resulted in the tragic death of a young driver and saw 70,000 left without power.

Calais strikes
Deal signed to end bitter Calais port dispute
Protesting French sailors block the tracks leadingto the Channel Tunnel earlier this summer provoking travel chaos. Photo: AFP

Deal signed to end bitter Calais port dispute

1 hour ago

Hopes have been raised that a long-running labour dispute which provoked cross-Channel travel chaos in Calais this summer on both trains and ferries has finally been resolved after a deal was signed with protesting French sailors.

Paris 'scared' by Berlin over economic policy
Is France too intimidated by Germany to bring an end to austerity? Photo: AFP

Paris 'scared' by Berlin over economic policy

12 hours ago

France has been intimidated by Germany into pursuing an economic policy that isn't working, Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz claimed on Monday.

Opinion - French schools
Ten ways France must fix its 'failing' school system
What must France do to fix its school system? Photo: AFP

Ten ways France must fix its 'failing' school system

12 hours ago

As pupils head back to the classroom this week, Peter Gumbel, a Paris-based British journalist and author of a best-selling critique of the French school system, spells out for The Local how France must fix a national education system in crisis.

Swathes of France on alert for violent storms
Storms are set to hit south west France. Photo: AFP

Swathes of France on alert for violent storms

15 hours ago

UPDATED: The country’s weather agency Météo France has placed 25 départements in the south west and centre of the country on storm alert on Monday, with downpours, gales and even hailstorms forecast.

French exec won't give up '€14 million bonuses'
Michel Combes has come in for criticism from pretty much everyone for his reported €14million bonuses. Photo: AFP

French exec won't give up '€14 million bonuses'

23 hours ago

UPDATED: The head of telecoms equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent on Monday said he wouldn't give in to government pressure to give up bonuses which could see him receive around €14 million ($15.7 million) as part of its buyout by rival Nokia.

One in ten French ER units should go: report
Dozens of hospital emergency wards could close across France. Photo: AFP

One in ten French ER units should go: report

16 hours ago

Dozens of emergency service units in France are not treating enough patients to be viable and should be downgraded, a new report being studied by the health ministry argues.

Calais migrants crisis
France to build new camp for 1,500 migrants

France to build new camp for 1,500 migrants

19 hours ago

France is to build a new humanitarian camp in Calais for 1,500 migrants with construction to begin in 2016, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced on Monday. The EU will stump up the money for the new camp.

Monaco's Martial to 'sign contract with Man Utd'
French striker Anthony Martial is heading to Man United it seems. Photo: AFP

Monaco's Martial to 'sign contract with Man Utd'

19 hours ago

Monaco forward Anthony Martial has been given permission by France coach Didier Deschamps "to travel to England to sign a contract with Manchester United", the French Football Federation announced on Monday.

Stagnant France to offer €2 billion in tax relief
France's finance minister said it seemed 'legitimate' to give back something to France's less well off for their efforts. File photo:AFP

Stagnant France to offer €2 billion in tax relief

21 hours ago

France's finance minister on Monday confirmed the country would push ahead with massive tax relief for the nation’s less well off, saying the money was available, despite the doom and gloom around the economy.

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS

Opinion
French education is in 'crisis' - Here are ten ways to fix it
French minister says 35-hour week not working in France
IN PICS: Police evict 300 people from France's oldest shanty town
Features
Take a look at some of the wackiest bars you can find in Paris
National
Feminist stunt sees French road signs changed for the day
Travel
Could coaches overtake trains when it comes to travelling in France?
Meet the five heroes who foiled the French train attack
National
France set for 'tourism record' of 85 million visitors in 2015
National
Paris students are helping police to warn Asian visitors about crime
Naked couple found dead beside French fortress
Europe's biggest science museum burns in Paris
Robber found half-naked and asleep in French beauty salon
National
Here are eight tips for blending in with the French while at the beach
Humans of Paris: We meet the man changing our perception of Parisians
National
France reveals new plans for Sunday and late-night shopping
Read about this revolutionary kidney op in a Toulouse hospital
National
Panic after four dogs 'poisoned' after walks in Paris park
France hit by huge summer spike in abandoned pets
National
France boils in second hottest summer ever
Technology
Meet Max - the first person in France to receive a 3D-printed hand
Politics
French minister admits to 'Obama engagement' tweeting mishap
Features
From giant bubbles to treehouses - here are the craziest hotels in France
National
How would you like to spend a night in the Palace of Versailles?
French manager paid to do nothing for 12 years
Features
We talk to Calais residents about their migrant crisis
National
Cow spared after fleeing from abattoir in France
FIVE reasons why everyone should visit Calais... yes Calais
Travel
France for adrenaline junkies: Ten crazy things to do
VIDEO: Slingshot elastic breaks on ride at French theme park
This plant might spell the end of the Asian hornet invasion
Who says the French don't like speaking English
National
It may be trickier to find a baguette in Paris this August
Killers of French student were 'inspired by Breaking Bad'
Ten must-see French gems you probably never thought of visiting
Is it time for France to force Britain to move border back across Channel?
Is romance in France just a "heterosexual concept"?
Can YOU pronounce these ten French town names?
Dog buried alive sparks French social media fury
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se