African leaders gave Chirac ‘suitcases of cash’
Former president and ex-PM Dominique de Villepin received millions, says Sarkozy aide
FORMER French president Jaques Chirac and prime minister Dominique de Villepin were regularly given suitcases full of cash by a rogues gallery of African leaders, according to a lawyer who claims he acted as a go-between and delivered cases to senior politicians for decades.
In an interview with the French Sunday newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, Robert Bourgi said he carried "tens of millions of francs" each year between former colonies including Burkina Faso, Congo, Gabon, Ivory Coast and Senegal over a 25-year period up until 2005.
Among the leaders who allegedly handed over the cash were Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast's deposed leader Laurent Gbagbo, Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Congo and Omar Bongo of Gabon, who died in 2009. Bougi said they contributed £6.2 million to Chirac's 2002 presidential campaign.
President Obiang N'Guema of Equatorial Guinea also made donations, and Bourgi also told the paper that he had carried money from the dictator Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. "I saw Chirac and Villepin count the money in front of me," he recalled, and claimed that Chirac even offered him beer as he put the bundles of cash away.
Bourgi also said that the same system of secret payments operated under former presidents Georges Pompidou, Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Francois Mitterand. His involvement stopped in 2005 he said.
Chirac and Villepin have strenuously denied the allegations and said they would file defamation complaints against Bourgi, who now works as an unofficial "advisor" to the current French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
A spokesman for Senegalese president Wade also denied the claims, but the former deputy to ousted Ivorian leader Gbagbo told AFP that money had been paid in 2002. Mamadou Koulibaly said cash had been transferred from Abidjan to Paris in a suitcase. He recalled: "I told the president that we're a poor country and we shouldn't have to pay to finance elections for politicians in rich countries."
The scandal is the latest to rock the increasingly murky world of French politics. Chirac is already on trial facing charges of illegal party funding, but is not attending the court case on medical grounds.
Villepin said the accusations were an attempt to stop him from running for president against Sarkozy. "They have been putting spokes in the wheels for years," he said. The former mayor of Paris also described the claims as a "smokescreen" designed to deflect attention away from allegations of illegal funding via arms deals made against Sarkozy.
Villepin is not the first of Sarkozy's political rivals to find themselves in the centre of a scandal this year. There were claims that Dominique Strauss-Kahn, former head of the IMF, had been framed after he was accused of sexual assault by a New York chambermaid. The charges were dropped last month. ·
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