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French tycoon Bolloré charged in Togo, Guinea corruption probe
Billionaire French industrialist Vincent Bolloré has been charged over alleged corrupt connections with the leaders of Guinea and Togo connected to the awarding of lucrative port contracts. The Bolloré group is one of France's largest companies and has interests in 46 of the 54 countries in Africa.
Bolloré, 66, was charged on Thursday with complicity in the fraudulent misuse of funds, complicity in fraud and corrupting a foreign public servant but was not placed under judicial control.
Bolloré group managing director, Gilles Allix, was charged with the same offences, while Jean-Philippe Dorent, the head of international operations the group's advertising and PR arm, Havas, was charged with the first two.
He was named as an assisted witness - a status that leaves open the possibility of future charges - on the corruption of a public servant charge.
Francis Perez, the boss of Spanish-based company Pefaco, was released without charge on Wednesday afternoon, according to his lawyer.
Perez, whose company also invests heavily in Africa, is a close associate of Dorent, lending him more than 400,000 euros to buy a house in Corsica, according to Le Monde newspaper.
The four were taken in for questioning two days ago.
Lomé, Conakry container ports
The case centres on the contracts for the management of container ports in Lomé and Conakry, which both sit on the Gulf of Guinea, in which Bolloré hoped to expand his company's transport and logistics activities.
Investigators believe that Havas undercharged for services provided during the election campaigns of Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé and Guinean President Alpha Condé in order to gain preferential treatment.
Although Bolloré had won the Lomé port contract in 2001, when Gnassingbé's father Gnassingbé Eyadema was president, it was granted more rights, such as the exclusive right to handle containers, two months before his son's reelection in 2010.
In Guinea Condé scrapped an already-existing deal in the company's favour just weeks after his election.
The investigation, headed by judges Serge Tournaire and Aude Buresi, who recently charged former president Nicolas Sarkozy in connection to alleged Libyan financing of his 2007 election campaign, was sparked by legal action by Jacques Dupuydauby, a former Bolloré collaborator owned the company that lost the Lomé contract.
The company denies any wrongdoing, as does the Guinean government.
Bolloré executives have pooh-poohed the idea that providing services worth a few hundred thousand euros could influence contracts worth millions.
But, according to some French media, the company has other interests that can prove useful to heads of state.
Media it owns publish sympathetic coverage of favoured countries and interviews with their leaders that avoid sensitive issues, such as corruption and human rights, Le Monde says.
In December 2017, the Bolloré-owned TV channel Canal+ broadcast a "promotional video", as the Les Jours website described it, on Togo that praised its "political stability", despite months of demonstrations against Gnassingbé, and quoted former British prime minister Tony Blair praising the president.
Bolloré's transport and logistics arm earned it 2.4 billion euros on the African continent last year.