Newspaper article International New York Times

Skeptics Question Gabon President's Gift 'To the People'

Newspaper article International New York Times

Skeptics Question Gabon President's Gift 'To the People'

Article excerpt

The move by Ali Ben Bongo, one of Africa's wealthiest leaders, was lauded in his circle, but critics pointed out the legal and political pressure he faces.

One of Africa's wealthiest presidents said this week that he was giving up at least some of his holdings "to the people of Gabon," a declaration heralded by his inner circle but quickly met with skepticism by critics who pointed out the legal and political pressure that the leader, Ali Ben Bongo, is facing over the vast riches acquired by his family.

The holdings of the Bongo family have long been a subject of speculation and, for much of the last decade, a subject of legal action by the French authorities as well.

Mr. Bongo's father, Omar, ruled Gabon for more than four decades until his death in 2009, accumulating fleets of expensive cars, luxurious properties in France and overstuffed bank accounts along the way.

Critics have long denounced the disparity between the lives of the people in a country where a third live on less than $1.25 a day and the family's sumptuous properties in Paris and elsewhere in France, the focus of a long-running judicial inquiry.

Around 40 such houses and apartments were identified by the nongovernmental organization Transparency International, which sued Mr. Bongo's father and other African leaders in 2008 in a case that has come to be known in France as the "ill-gotten gains affair."

Late on Monday, Mr. Bongo said in a speech on national television that he was giving up "to the Gabonese" two properties in Paris; his father's immense residence in the Gabonese capital, Libreville; and the "income from my portion of the inheritance" in order to "aid the education and development of Gabon's youth."

The two houses in Paris are in the Seventh and Eighth Arrondissements, two of the city's most exclusive districts, and the home in Libreville is "gigantic," an aide to Mr. Bongo said in a telephone interview from the Gabonese capital. The aide said the mansion would become part of a national university system that critics say is in tatters.

The unexpected donation this week comes in a fraught context for Mr. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.