Fight against African kleptocrats to go global after milestone ruling in France

Money-laundering inquiry given access to African leaders' assets

Anti-corruption campaigners have called on Western governments to follow France's lead in allowing an investigation into the assets of three African leaders accused of looting their countries to fund lavish purchases in the rich world.

Huguette Labelle, the head of global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, said the high court decision in Paris to allow a judicial inquiry into the French assets of the leaders of Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Congo, and the former leader of Gabon, was a "milestone" and a "deterrent" against future theft.

She called on the G20 club of rich nations meeting today in South Korea to act on its commitment to combat money laundering and back the "French model" which allows European courts to go after assets bought with the proceeds of corruption.

"This is going to be a very important case for the anti-corruption movement worldwide," said Ms Labelle, speaking from Thailand. "People in these countries know their money is being stolen and this can help to create a new sense that something can be done about it."

A 2007 investigation into the French holdings of President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea and Omar Bongo, Gabon's then-president, uncovered assets worth tens of millions of pounds.

These "ill-gotten gains", as they came to be known, included hundreds of bank accounts; a fleet of Ferraris and Bugattis worth more than €3m and, in the case of Mr Bongo, who died last year, nearly 40 properties in Paris' exclusive 16th district. In each case the value of the assets bore no relation to the declared income of the individuals.

Tuesday's victory, which saw France's highest court clear the way for a full judicial investigation into the origin of the leaders' assets, came after three years of legal battles. The accused have all denied any wrongdoing.

The appeal court ruling raises the prospect of serving African heads of state being tried for corruption in the French courts. It also sets a precedent allowing an alliance of non-governmental organisations to bring a criminal action in a "public interest" case. "So much money has been taken out [of Africa]," said Ms Labelle. "When there's enough evidence we need to have these public interest cases taken to court."

The French inquiry is expected to shed light on the role of European banks in laundering stolen money.

Britain's Michael Sullivan, QC, was among a group of lawyers to give his backing to this week's ruling and call for courts in the West to be used to trace the proceeds of corruption in Africa

"The main reason for doing this isn't because it's easier to get a result in a Western court," he said. "It's because the fraud is often centred around money laundered through Western banks."

Mr Sullivan led an investigation into money allegedly stolen by former president of Zambia, Frederick Chiluba, which uncovered $56m worth of assets. The southern African nation took its former leader to court in the UK in 2007 after investigators uncovered an extraordinary decade of spending.

The legal aciton, led by Mr Sullivan described accounts in the UK, Switzerland and the Caribbean, that had been used to cover the president's lavish spending under the pretence of financing overseas intelligence operations.

After the court in London found against him, Mr Chiluba was acquitted in a criminal action in Zambia last year. Despite that setback Mr Sullivan said that African courts would be unable to follow the financial trail even if there was the political will to do so and only Western courts could compel the disclosure of bank records.

The intervention of Western courts in the affairs of African leaders has been attacked as "neo-colonialism" by the supporters of some regimes. However, there was widespread support for the French decision. "Our governments are the perpetrators of corruption and their successors tend to forgive them," said Mwalimu Mati, of the political watchdog, Mars Group Kenya.

"The argument that this is neo-colonialism only favours the continued looting of Africa," he said. "Africans should get their money back."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot