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France court refuses to hear embezzlement case against African heads of state

[JURIST] The Paris Court of Appeals on Thursday refused to hear an embezzlement case brought by the anti-corruption group Transparency International (TI) [official website] against the late president of Gabon, the president of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the president of Equatorial Guinea. The complaint [BBC report] accused the late Omar Bongo of Gabon, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the DRC, Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, and their relatives, of acquiring luxury homes and cars in France with African public funds. In its decision to dismiss [Le Monde report, in French] the case, the court held that activists could not bring suit against foreign heads of state. In reaction to the ruling, TI has already announced its intention to appeal [press release]. Despite the disappointment, TI stressed the case's triumphs, citing the increase in the public's awareness of corruption and decreasing the barriers against prosecuting foreign heads of state in France.

The case was heard earlier this year by French Magistrate Francoise Desset, who ruled that the suit could move forward [Le Parisien report, in French]. French state prosecutors appealed that decision. The case is sensitive for France, with Gabon as a former colony. France has struggled with how to reconcile its colonial history [JURIST news archive].

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