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CORRUPTION

Bolloré hits back at ‘condescending treatment of Africans’

French industrialist Vincent Bolloré has gone on the offensive over corruption charges brought against him over his business dealings in Africa, claiming the case was rooted in prejudice about the continent.

Bolloré hits back at 'condescending treatment of Africans'
Conakry, the port in Guinea at the centre of the graft accusations. Photo: Cellou Binani/AFP
In an opinion article published on Sunday in the French weekly Le Journal du Dimanche, the head of the Bolloré Group, who was charged in connection with the awarding of two lucrative port concessions in West Africa, said the continent was wrongfully portrayed in France as a “land of misrule, even corruption”.
   
“People imagine heads of state deciding by themselves to award huge contracts to unscrupulous investors,” he wrote. 
   
Investigating magistrates on Thursday charged the 66-year-old over allegations that his group's communications arm undercharged the presidents of Guinea and Togo for work on their election campaigns as sweeteners for contracts to operate Conakry port and Lomé port.
   
Defending himself against the claims, Bolloré wrote: “Who could imagine that a few hundred thousand euros in spending on communications, which were accounted for in a transparent manner… determined hundreds of millions of euros in investment in port operations that require significant technical know-how, obtained through international tenders?”
   
Bolloré, one of France's most powerful businessmen, sits at the head of a sprawling business empire with revenues of 18.3 billion euros ($22.4 billion) in 2017 and interests in everything from construction and logistics to media, advertising and agriculture.
   
Africa accounts for about 20 percent of its turnover, excluding the Vivendi media group which is controlled by the family-run Bolloré Group.
 
France 'will need Africa'
 
In the letter titled “Should we get out of Africa?”, Bolloré said the French investigation had made him question whether he should pursue his activities on the continent, where he had invested 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion).
   
“I have realised over the past few days that what we have been doing in good faith for a long time, seen through the prism of those who consider the continent to be run by lawless people, is fertile ground for legitimate  suspicion,” he wrote.
   
Slamming the “inaccurate and condescending treatment of Africans” he warned that “soon, France will need Africa more than the other way round.”  
 
The nearly 200-year-old Bolloré Group operates a dozen container ports in Africa and has stakes in several others, along with three railway concessions and interests in palm oil production.
   
Its communications arm Havas worked on Guinean President Alpha Condé's winning 2010 election campaign.
   
Months after taking office, Condé terminated the contract of Conakry's existing port operator and gave it to rival Bolloré. Havas also worked on the communications strategy of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe.
   
After Gnassingbe's re-election to a second term in 2010, the Bolloré Group won the 35-year Lomé port contract. Both decisions were challenged by other bidders.

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CORRUPTION

Airbus chief warns of ‘significant penalties’ from bribery probes

Airbus CEO Tom Enders warned on Friday that the aircraft manufacturer could face "significant penalties" relating to ongoing corruption probes including one into the sale of fighter jets to Austria.

Airbus chief warns of 'significant penalties' from bribery probes
Airbus CEO Tom Enders. Photo: Aurore Belot/AFP

“We are currently being investigated for alleged breaches of anti-bribery and anti-corruption laws,” Enders wrote in a letter to employees seen by AFP.

“We are in this situation because we decided last year to disclose the issues we had ourselves uncovered to government authorities and investigation agencies,” he said, adding: “This was the right course of action.”

“This is going to be a long process and there are potentially serious consequences – including significant penalties to the company,” Enders said.

An Airbus business unit in Paris reportedly built a network of shell companies linked to London-based Vector Aerospace, formerly the group's aircraft maintenance subsidiary.

Its system allowed the group to make “bribes to decision-makers in Austria” while Vienna was considering its purchase of Eurofighter military jets, German news magazine Der Spiegel reported Friday, culminating in a 15-aircraft deal worth about €1.7 billion ($2 billion).

Inquiries have also been opened in France and Britain, on suspicion of corruption in Airbus's UK-based civil aviation arm.

Without citing sources, Der Spiegel also reported that prosecutors were “preparing charges” against unidentified suspects over the Austria case.

“Internal investigators stumbled across more than 100 possibly corrupt payments in the three-digit millions,” the magazine reported, citing anonymous sources.

But Hildegard Baeumler-Hoesl, a state prosecutor in Munich, told AFP earlier Friday that investigators had “little evidence so far of corruption”.

Bavarian investigators have been looking into the Airbus since 2012, and the corruption probe over the sale of jets to Austria will “soon be over,” she said.

An Airbus spokesperson told AFP that the Spiegel report was “not based on any declaration or disclosure by the public prosecutor.”

Austrian authorities are also investigating Airbus after bringing charges in February, claiming the company paid out 183 million to €1.1 billion in under-the-table “commissions”.

Austrian Defence Minister Hans Peter Doskozil accused Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium deliberately misleading Vienna about the purchase price, delivery times and technical equipment of the 18 Eurofighter jets.

Last month, Airbus denied the accusations, with a lawyer for the company calling them “factitious and legally groundless”.

“As the process unfolds we are likely to face frequent media coverage,” Enders said in his letter to employees, while also warning against “leaks and attempts by individuals with vested interests to discredit top management by spreading false allegations.”

“In other words, prepare for turbulent and confusing times,” he wrote.