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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 3rd May 2018


Blue Lines

Just as France's President Emmanuel Macron was enjoying the hospitality of United States' President Donald Trump – both self-styled mavericks – in Washington, investigators in Paris were preparing to charge business titan Vincent Bolloré with corruption over his contracts to operate ports in Conakry and Lomé.

African and French business operators are asking whether the Paris investigators had been emboldened by Macron's declaration that France had to reform its economic relationship with Africa. Investigators are also looking into claims that Société Générale had paid bribes to win contracts with Libya's Investment Authority. Bolloré, with a net worth of around US$6.5 billion, has a buccaneering style far closer to the US's corporate culture than France's.

Although Bolloré's stake in the Vivendi media empire has raised questions in Europe, it is his near monopoly on operating ports in West and Central Africa that triggered the French investigation. The central accusation is that the Guineagovernment cancelled a port contract awarded to another French company, Necotrans, and gave it to Bolloré, whose communications company Havas had helped President Alpha Condé win the 2015 election. Although Condé and Bolloré deny any wrongdoing, the regional court in Abidjan ruled the annulling of Necotrans's contract improper and ordered Guinea to pay the company €38.4 million in compensation. Conakry is still contesting the order.