Probe of Businessman Highlights Still-Powerful French Interests in Africa

In Paris, authorities are probing allegations that the holding company of tycoon Vincent Bollore used favors to win lucrative port contracts in West Africa. Bollore presides over a massive media, logistics and transportation empire on the continent, even as France’s clout in Africa is waning.

French investigators are probing allegations that Vincent Bollore’s holding company was given lucrative port concessions in Togo and Guinea in exchange for undercharging the current leaders of both countries for advertising work during their election campaigns.

The Bollore Group has denied all wrongdoing, and said the inquiry will give 66-year-old Bollore a chance to answer what it describes as “unfounded accusations.”

France continues to be a major economic and political player in West Africa, especially in its former colonies. But its influence has declined in the face of more recent competitors like China and Turkey.

Even so, the Bollore Group remains a formidable player. Its interests include logistical operations, railways, ports, and media interests that turn over billions of dollars a year.

Interviewed on French TV, journalist Nicolas Vescovacci, who wrote a book about Bollore, describes the Bollore Group’s Africa interests as an “empire” that spans 46 countries and employs 25,000 people. Vescovacci says the businessman controls what enters into the African ports his group controls, and at least part of local economies in countries like Guinea, Togo and Ivory Coast.

Bollore also has forged ties with powerful figures in both France and in Africa. He is friends with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is now being probed over alleged Libyan campaign funding for his 2007 election.

Journalist Vescovacci says Bollore has a network of relationships that range from former spies and policemen to politicians � from the left, as well as from the right.

Now Bollore’s relationship with two of them, Guinean President Alpha Conde and Togolese leader Faure Gnassingbe, is under scrutiny. French investigators are probing accusations Bollore’s advertising company Havas, now run by one of his sons, provided discounted services to both men during their election runs in exchange for port contracts.

In France, Bollore is a controversial figure. Over the years, he has launched a number of defamation suits against media investigating his group’s various business activities.

Source: Voice of America

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