16 Aug 2007
A London High court judge rejects Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso’s attempt to compel Global Witness to delete his personal expenses published on her website.
In June, the London based NGO Global Witness, published information obtained from a Hong Kong court case and other sources that seem to show that the son of Congo Brazaville’s president lavishly spent money apparently belonging to the ‘people of Congo’ on personal luxury items. Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso is the head of Cotrade, the Marketing branch of the state oil company SNPC.
In a press release issued in June Global Witness said; “The son of the president of the Republic of Congo appears to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of money that may derive from sales of state oil on lavish designer shopping sprees in Paris, Marbella and Dubai while Congo remains one of the poorest and most indebted countries in the world. While 70% of Congolese earn less than a dollar a day, in August 2006 alone, Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, son of Congo’s president and head of Cotrade… spent $35000 on purchases from designers such as Louis Vuitton and Roberto Cavalli”.
The press release went on to say how a court case in Hong Kong has revealed that Christel’s credit card bills and those of his deputy at Cotrade Blaise Elenga have been paid off using funds from companies “beneficially owned” by the duo in the tax haven of Anguilla- a very small island (difficult to locate on the map) situated some 70 kms off the northern coast of central Cuba. “The companies appear to have received, via other shell companies, money related to Congo’s oil sales”.
Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso and his Anguilla based Company, Long Beach Limited, went to a London court to seek an injunction to compel Global Witness to remove his published company records and personal credit card statements from its website, citing his right to privacy.
In his judgment handed down on Wednesday, Judge Stanley Burnton threw out Christel Sassou Nguesso’s case on grounds that there was “obvious possible inference” that linked Sassou Nguesso’s expenses to “secret personal profits made out of dealings in oil sold by Cotrade”. In one of the articles of the ruling, the Judge noted; “In my judgment, there is a clear and overwhelming case for refusing relief on the ground that there is an important public interest in the publication of the specified documents and the information derived from them…It is unlikely that the claimants can establish that their rights under Article 8 or their right to privacy or any remaining confidentiality in the specified documents or the comment and allegations derived from them can override Global Witness’ Article 10 right and the public interest in publication”.
Poverty denigrades Africans as her ruling elites & foreign accomplices squander the continent's resources
photo: Njei M.T
This ruling is seen as a small victory for friends of the poor in Africa. If nothing can be done to dislodge the predatory ruling classes from holding millions of Africans hostage by their greed, at least the court has made it possible to name and shame them.
It is interesting to note that the judge went the extra mile to lament the dilemma of an Africa under the grip of thieving rulers. “First, as to the background, the terrible poverty of the populations of much of sub-Saharan Africa, even in resource-rich states, is notorious. So is the apparent wealth of members of the ruling classes of some of those states, a wealth wholly disproportionate to the average income of their citizens.”
No wonder, in January the Sunday Times compared the New York hotel bills of an African leader and his large delegation to the Humanitarian aid given by Britain to that African country in the same year. The president and his entourage occupied 44 rooms for five days at 130,000 pounds sterling, an amount far higher than the 106,000 pounds his country received as Humanitarian aid from Britain that same year. It is interesting to note that among the expenses incurred at the hotel included two bottles of Cristal Champagne charged at 400 pounds! The fact that this story again pertains to Congo does not imply that Congo stands out as the bad guy. In reality the squandering in Congo is modest compared to what happens in other resource-rich but ‘poor’ African countries.
I have always insisted that Africa is not poor but poorly managed. Powerful accomplices outside the continent contribute to exacerbate the mismanagement.
Njei Moses Timah