French court clears former Gabon leader's daughter of corruption

Pascaline Bongo, the eldest daughter of Gabon's long-serving former leader Omar Bongo was charged for accepting bribes to help secure public contracts. [Courtesy, Agency]

A French court on Monday cleared the eldest daughter of Gabon's long-serving former leader Omar Bongo of accepting bribes to help secure public contracts in the oil-rich West African country.

The Paris criminal court found Pascaline Bongo not guilty, alongside French construction firm Egis Route and five individuals.

Pascaline Bongo, who was her father's chief of staff until his death in 2009, was accused of helping Egis Route secure public contracts in Gabon in 2010-2011 when her brother Ali Bongo had taken over the president.

Prosecutors alleged that she accepted a promise of eight million euros ($8.5 million at today's rates) in kickbacks.

But the court found that Bongo's position as "high personal representative of the president" did not grant her the "ability to award the contract" in question.

"Nothing in the case enables us to prove an intervention" in favour of Edis Route using her ties to the president, the presiding judge added.

She also highlighted that the French law making it an offence to bribe a foreign public official did not exist at the time of the alleged infraction.

"It's reassuring that the court made a fair reading of the situation... this is a victory for the law," Bongo's lawyer Corinne Dreyfus-Schmidt said.

Two former senior Egis Route managers and its current sales chief Christian Laugier -- formerly in charge of the firm's Africa business and chief executive -- were also in the dock.

The three men were suspected of offering Pascaline Bongo the eight-million-euro kickback for the public works contract.