Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE)- One of France’s richest men, Vincent Bolloré, has been charged with corruption in connection with the award of port management contracts in West Africa. He is a long time friend of former President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Bollore and two executives were charged by French investigators as part of a probe into the possible use of bribes in the two African countries to obtain port contracts from public officials.

The case focuses on the award of contracts to Bolloré SA to operate container terminals in Lomé, Togo, and Conakry, Guinea, according to a statement from his company. A Bolloré SA executive and an official at Havas, an advertising company linked to Bollore, were also charged, according to a person familiar with the matter. All three men were released.

Investigating judges suspect that executives of Bollore SA used Havas to assist the elections of Presidents Alpha Conde in Guinea and Faure Gnassingbe in Togo nearly a decade ago by providing communications advice at a discount price, according to leaked information from the enquiry, which in theory is secret. At the time of the events in 2010, Bollore was Havas’s controlling shareholder.

A spokesman for the company reminded journalists that Vincent Bolloré benefits from the presumption of innocence. The charges are a sign that French authorities are stepping up their prosecution of international corruption cases. It is very unlikely that the principal shareholder such an important company in France’s sphere of influence in West Africa would be treated in this way without the nod from the Elysée Palace and indirectly President Macron. Bolloré SA have port management contracts all around the West African coast. France has been criticized in the past by the OECD for not effectively pursuing this type of case in the past.

The case against Boloré was triggered by a complaint from a former business partner, the company said in a statement. It is certain that Bolloré who has been involved in many takeover battles does not want for business enemies.

Havas said in a statement it is cooperating with authorities and also highlighted the presumption of innocence.

The charges followed two days of questioning after Bollore voluntarily went to police on Tuesday morning. He was held until Wednesday afternoon, when he was brought before the case’s two lead investigators, officials known in France as investigative magistrates. He was then charged with corruption of a foreign official and aiding and abetting forgery and use of forged documents.

Bollore leads a company with a market value of $14.7 billion that has a near-monopoly on ports in West and Central Africa, holding concessions to operate container terminals in 15 nations. The company also runs 25 dry ports including in landlocked nations such as Burkina Faso and Chad. He is also the biggest shareholder in Vivendi SA, though last week he handed over the reins as chairman -- a post he’s held since 2014 -- to his son, Yannick Bollore.

The case is a significant development in France’s relationship with its former West African colonies known as Françafrique where eight nations still use the Franc CFA which is linked to the Euro. France also has military commitments to a number of nations in West Africa.

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