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Monday
Nov302009

Paris Punts On Probe

The lawsuit examining how three African rulers and their families managed to acquire dozens of luxury homes, cars and other assets in France has been stopped. A Paris magistrate had ordered the investigation in May at the request of Transparency International. See our post here. But last month an appellate court agreed with the Justice Ministry that TI lacked standing to bring the case.

The rulers named in the suit were Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Congo Republic, and Omar Bongo-Ondimba of Gabon. The Congo Republic and Gabon -- recently joined by Equatorial Guinea -- are important oil exporters. According to Reuters, the French oil and gas group Total SA  is "the leading producer in Gabon and Congo Republic and many other French firms, public and private, have long-term contracts there." 

William Bourdon, one of TI's lawyers, said: "Those in France and Africa who organize and take advantage of the looting of African public money will be celebrating with champagne." TI said it will ask France's Supreme Court (the Cour de cassation) to reinstate the investigation.

Gabon's President Bongo died in June. He had ruled the country since 1967, making him Africa's longest-serving head of state. His family owns 39 properties in France, Reuters said, mostly in exclusive districts of Paris and on the Riviera. The Congo Republic's Sassou-Nguesso and his relatives own 24 French properties, including a Paris mansion worth $28 million.

TI tipped police in 2007 to the African leaders' French assets. A preliminary police review identified "dozens of bank accounts, properties in rich districts of Paris and on the Riviera, and a collection of Bugattis, Ferraris, Maybachs, Maseratis and other luxury cars." The foreign rulers have denied using embezzled public funds to buy assets in France.

*   *   *

Another time, another surge. President Lyndon Johnson, during a June 8, 1965 phone call to Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, said this about U.S. troops in South Vietnam and the generals' requests for reinforcements:

I don't see exactly the medium for pulling out. . . . Our 75,000 men are going to be in great danger unless they have 75,000 more. My judgment is and I'm no military man at all, but I study it every day and every night and I read the cables, I look back over what's happened in the last two years, the last four really, and if they get 150, they'll have to have another 150. And then they'll have to have another 150. . . .

But, unless you can guard what you're doing, you can't do anything. We can't build an airport, by God . . .  it takes more people to guard us in building an airport than it does to build the airport.

From the transcript of LBJ's Path To War, Bill Moyers' Journal, November 20, 2009.

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