TI France is moving to block an audacious, underhanded move by the Gabonese government to frustrate the confiscation of hundreds of millions in assets stolen from its citizens. The assets are likely to be confiscated as part of the proceedings known as Bien Mal Acquis (wrongfully acquired assets), where French prosecutors are investigating the ruling families of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of the Congo for buying hundreds of millions of euros of French real estate and other properties with corrupt monies. In 2017, in the first case to go to trial, €150 million in French assets were confiscated from Equatorial Guineans First Vice President Teodorin Obiang (here).
Apparently anticipating a similar result, the Gabonese government recently joined the proceedings as a partie civile or civil party. Under French law, if a court orders the confiscation of the Gabonese ruling family’s assets, the Gabonese government would then have a claim to some if not all of the assets under the theory it is entitled to recover damages suffered by the ruling family’s corruption. A just and reasonable outcome were a democratically elected government committed to its citizens’ welfare in power.
Tragically, for the Gabonese people this is not the case. The same family responsible for stealing the nation’s wealth, the Bongos, remains in power. TI France has now moved to have the government’s claim to be a civil party dismissed. This should be an easy decision for the presiding magistrate given how well the Bongo family’s corruption has been documented.
The continued active participation of civil society in the landmark Bien Mal Acquis case shows how critical it is that anticorruption NGOs to represent those like the citizens of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of the Congo where their governments make it impossible for corruption victims to bring cases on their own. The TI Press Release on its move to strike the Gabonese government as a civil party is here. The origins of Bien Mal Acquis and its lessons are discussed here.