CONAKRY (Reuters) - Opposition lawmakers in Guinea on Wednesday called for a parliamentary inquiry into billionaire tycoon Vincent Bollore’s dealings in the West African nation, which are under investigation in France.
French authorities are looking into allegations that a unit of his company Groupe Bollore undercharged for work on behalf of presidential candidates in Guinea and Togo in return for port contracts.
Guinea’s Justice Minister Cheick Sako told Reuters last week that it would cooperate with the French investigation.
Guinea’s opposition holds just 37 of a total of 114 seats in parliament so will require support from at least some of Conde’s allies in order to move forward with an inquiry, but the call shows the risk of a public backlash in West Africa to the news.
“We demand the creation of a parliamentary commission of inquiry to shine light on the Bollore affair,” Ousmane Gaoual Diallo, an MP from opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo’s Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), told Reuters.
“We made a proposal for this and it will be before the office of the speaker of the National Assembly tomorrow morning,” he said.
Bollore’s lawyer, Olivier Baratelli, has denied any wrongdoing by his client, who is under formal investigation for allegations including corrupting foreign public officials and complicity in breach of trust, forgery and use of forgery, according to a French judicial source.
Groupe Bollore, whose Chief Executive Gilles Alix, is also a target of the investigation, has denied the allegations as well.
The sprawling company has confirmed that its African business interests were being investigated over the billing of work by its communications business Havas Worldwide in Guinea and Togo between 2009 and 2010.
Allegations in Guinea center on a concession to manage and expand the container terminal in the capital Conakry.
France’s Getma International won the contract in a 2008 tender, beating rivals including Bollore - the dominant port and rail operator across French-speaking West and Central Africa.
Guinea’s current President Alpha Conde came to power after narrowly defeating Diallo in a 2010 election and canceled the agreement with Getma in March of the following year. Bollore took over the concession the same month.
Former transport minister Alpha Ibrahima Keira said last week that Havas’ work during the election had nothing to do with the decision, which the government says was the result of a legal tendering process. Bollore Group has also denied any link between the communications consultancy and the port business.
“As with all the proposals made by the opposition since the start of this legislature, we know that this could be abandoned in a desk drawer, but we are committed to clarifying this matter,” opposition MP Gaoual Diallo said.
Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Tim Cocks