PARIS (Reuters) - French billionaire Vincent Bollore on Sunday fought allegations that his family-run group corrupted foreign public officials to win port concessions in West Africa.
In a op-ed article entitled “Should we abandon Africa?” in the weekly Journal du Dimanche (JDD), the businessman said the accusations were not credible and stemmed from “malicious” and “false” information spread on local leaders on the continent.
The article came four days after a French judge placed Bollore, 66, under formal investigation over allegations his conglomerate - a logistics empire in former French colonies across West Africa - undercharged for work on behalf of presidential candidates in Togo and Guinea.
The company confirmed this week its African business interests were under investigation over the billing for work carried out in the two countries between 2009 and 2010 by its communications business Havas Worldwide.
The group denied any wrongdoing.
“How can one imagine that communication expenses of a few hundred thousands euros, accounted for in all transparency by a global and renowned communication group, could have determined investments of hundreds of million euros in port operations...,” Bollore said.
The executive added his group, which operates 16 container ports in West Africa, invested about 4 billion euros ($4.85 billion) in the region over the last 30 years. He said he also pushed French media group Vivendi, which he controls, to invest in the continent.
Claiming that he is the target of a “witch hunt,” Bollore said the investigation could weaken the ties between France and its former colonies on the African continent.
“Isn’t there a risk that the France of Enlightenment they had so admired may break this bond through witch hunts and unfair and disproportionate inquisitions...,” Bollore asked.
Bollore is suspected of corrupting foreign public officials and complicity in corruption, his lawyer Olivier Baratelli said earlier this week.
(The story was refiled to add the missing word ‘between’ in paragraph 8)
Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Marguerita Choy