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October 30, 2009

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Money-laundering probe into African leaders off

A FRENCH court has decided not to pursue an investigation into three African heads of state for money laundering linked to their assets in France.

A French judge had been seeking to investigate Gabon's late leader, Omar Bongo, the Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou-Nguesso and President Teodoro Obiang, of Equatorial Guinea, following a complaint by Transparency International France, a group that tracks corruption.

But an appeals court ruled yesterday that the investigation could not go forward because there was not enough evidence of wrongdoing.

A preliminary investigation had turned up numerous signs of wealth among the three leaders and their families, including luxury cars such as Aston Martins and Bugattis, sometimes paid for in cash.

William Bourdon, a lawyer for Transparency International France, said the group would appeal the decision to France's highest court.

Bongo ruled Gabon for more than 41 years until his death in June. His son Ali Bongo was sworn in as president this month following disputed elections.

French media have reported that Bongo's family owns abundant real estate in France - at one time, more Paris properties than any other foreign leader.

Ali Bongo's lawyer, Patrick Maisonneuve, said his client had no real estate in France. He said he could speak only for the current leader, not the rest of the family.

Sassou-Nguesso seized power in the Republic of Congo for a second time in 1997 with help from Angolan troops.

A lawyer for Obiang, who seized power in a coup three decades ago, said his client has no assets in France and he had responded to the complaints with a slander suit.


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