Nearly 13 years after the death of former Gabon President Omar Bongo, an investigation into the circumstances under which the strongman gifted a former French beauty queen of Rwandan origin, Sonia Rolland, has commenced in Paris.
According to CNN, President Bongo and the former Miss France, had a romantic relationship that led to the gift of the house located in a posh Paris neighbourhood.
The Rwandan-born French actress was consequently placed under formal investigation on Thursday last week following her indictment in a probe into the huge fortune.
According to prosecutors, the property has the hallmarks of ill-gotten assets. Omar Bongo was rich man famous for his extravagance and maintained a slew of extensive harems at home and Europe.
“Rolland was the first African-born winner of the Miss France pageant in 2000 when she was aged 22. In 2003, the beauty queen received an apartment in Paris as a gift from Bongo, with the real estate valued at about €800,000 (over $850,000), according to the French newspaper Le Parisien,” CNN reports.
The report says the French National Prosecutor for Financial Crimes (PNF) confirmed that investigations into the ownership of the house by Rolland is underway and she might be charged with “concealment and embezzlement of public funds.”
The report says no warrant of arrest has been issued against Rolland, the prosecutor’s office said. However, in a statement quoted by CNN, Rolland’s lawyer Charles Morel said the luxury real estate acquired by his client from the Bongo family was unsolicited and was only discovered to be questionable after many years.
“She obviously acknowledges having been naive but disputes any offense,” Morel is quoted as saying. “At no time did she know of the origin of the funds or the financial package.”
Morel also stated that Rolland had “no doubt that she will be cleared at the end of the investigation.”
Omar Bongo died of cardiac arrest while being treated for intestinal cancer in 2009. He ruled the Central African country for 42 years, having become president in 1967, seven years after Gabon gained independence from France. He was swiftly succeeded by his son Ali Bongo.
Omar Bongo ruled over Gabon with an iron-fist with his decades in power blighted by spiralling allegations of corruption. The late president’s acquisitions in France have been subject to a long-running criminal inquiry by French authorities with some of his accounts frozen and properties seized.
In 2016, two houses belonging to Bongo’s son Ali were seized, one in Nice and the other in the capital, Paris, according to Le Parisien. Four of Omar Bongo’s children have been indicted for corruption by French prosecutors — an allegation they all deny.
- A Tell report / Additional report by CNN