France is investigating Vincent Bolloré, one of the country’s richest men, for his company’s involvement in bribery of public officials in Africa. Bolloré has been held for questioning by prosecutors since yesterday (April 24).
French prosecutors are looking to determine whether the advertising agency Havas, a subsidiary of the Bolloré Group, offered discounted communications services to Guinea’s president Alpha Condé and Togo’s president Faure Gnassingbé during the elections in exchange for lucrative licences to operate ports in both countries.
Following the Guinean election, president Condé reviewed the country’s port operation contract and awarded it to Bolloré Africa Logistics company. Bolloré Group has denied committing wrongdoing saying that its services were carried out transparently. The company’s shares have fallen by around 7% in Paris trading since yesterday.
Bolloré, 67, has a net worth of $6.6 billion and has business operations spanning several sectors across the continent, especially French speaking countries. He is often seen as one of the leading business faces of “Francafrique”, described as France’s continued political and economic influence over its former African colonies.
Bolloré Group, with a market cap of over $14 billion, runs the largest port operator in Africa and has invested €3 billion ($3.6 billion) in logistics and transport over the past decade. The company holds concessions to operate container terminals across 15 countries and also operates 25 dry ports including in landlocked nations including Burkina Faso and Chad. Bolloré Group’s operations in Africa initially came under focus in 2016 when it had its Paris headquarters searched in connection with port contracts.
Analysts say the investigation Bolloré’s operations indicates France is increasing its focus on international corruption cases. Last December, it found Teodorin Obiang, the playboy son of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea’s leader, guilty of acquiring assets in France with proceeds of corruption and sentenced him to a three-year jail term.