Eight people were detained on remand Thursday as part of a massive anti-corruption operation launched in Gabon and involving relatives of the former strongman of the presidency, Brice Laccruche to the leadership of President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s cabinet.
« There are lawsuits against compatriots for misappropriation of public funds and money laundering, » said Libreville prosecutor André Patrick Roponat on national television late on Thursday.
Who could have imagined a few weeks ago that the situation would evolve like this?
In all, sixteen people were brought before a judge on Wednesday. Eight were placed in pre-trial detention, and others on bail, the prosecutor added.
In recent weeks, a wave of arrests on the background of suspicion of corruption and financial malpractice shake Gabon. They began after the dismissal of Mr. Laccruche to the leadership of President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s cabinet.
He had been in this position for more than two years, and he had been gaining influence after Mr. Bongo’s stroke in October 2018.
This growing power has been the subject of much criticism, particularly when Mr. Lacruche placed several of his relatives in key positions. He has since been appointed at the head of a ministry with the singular title: that of the follow-up of the « Strategy of the human investments and the objectives of sustainable development ».
At the heart of the ongoing investigation is the management of a public company, Gabon Oil Company (GOC), where 85 billion CFA francs (129 million euros) would « volatilized », according to an article published Wednesday by the pro-government daily Union.
The director-general manager of this company, Patrichi Tanasa, close to Mr. Laccruche, is among those in prison, confirmed to AFP his lawyer Jean Paul Moubembe.
The Union’s investigation targets Dupont Consulting Company, a private company that has signed several contracts with the GOC, whose administrator happens to be Mr. Laccruche’s brother, Gregory Laccruche. He was arrested Wednesday but is not one of the people presented to a judge Thursday, told AFP a source close to power.
Similarly, the spokesman for the presidency, Ike Ngouoni, the right arm of Mr. Laccruche, was arrested last Thursday, but is still in custody.
Several lawyers of those arrested have denounced a « political vendetta » and the opposition press speaks of a « witch hunt ».
For its part, the presidency called for « depoliticizing » the investigation. « Whatever your place, if there are suspicions, there is no impunity. Now it’s up to justice to do its job, to decide, « said Jessye Ella Ekogha, who replaces Mr. Ngouoni.
According to him, it is mainly the continuation of Operation Mamba, launched in 2017 by the President to fight against corruption.
On Friday, Ali Bongo Ondimba chaired an extraordinary council of the judiciary, a first in ten years in power. In the wake, the Libreville prosecutor Olivier N’Zahou lost his place in the court of first instance of Libreville to be sent as general counsel to Franceville, at the other end of the country.
A prosecutor who is hiding
« Today, Mr. N’Zahou is hiding because he is followed and he has the impression that we want to finish with him, » says his lawyer Me Nzigou.
The presidency has also made several changes to key positions in the intelligence and security services in recent days.
Faced with this upheaval in Gabonese political life, some of the opposition continues to assert that President Bongo is no longer able to run the country.
The group of opponents Call to Action, which requires expertise on the health of the president since March, believes that « the impostures succeed each other at the head of the country. » He denounces Gabon’s « monarchization, » arguing that recent upheavals reflect the « growing power of the wife and son of Ali Bongo ».
« Talking about incapacity when the president chaired a higher council of the judiciary a few days ago can not be taken seriously, » the spokesman for the interim presidency said.