Ex-Elf chief to appear in Togo court over fraud probe
The former head of French oil giant Elf, Loik Le Floch-Prigent, is due to appear in a Togolese court Monday after being extradited in a fraud probe, a move condemned by his lawyer.
The former Elf chairman was arrested in Ivory Coast’s economic capital Abidjan on Friday night as he tried to board an Air France flight to Paris, an Ivorian security source said.
He was transferred to Togo the next day, under an international arrest warrant, and is due to appear in court in the Togolese capital Lome on Monday.
Le Floch-Prigent’s lawyer Patrick Klugman denounced the swift international transfer.
“The forms of extradition as we currently know them were not respected,” Klugman said. He earlier condemned the transfer as a “kidnapping” but later backtracked from the remark.
An Ivorian prosecutor however said the transfer was an operation between two police forces in line with international police organisation Interpol rules.
Le Floch-Prigent’s lawyer in Togo told AFP he was able to visit him on Sunday night at the police station in Lome, where he was being held in an office.
He said he had not been subjected to abusive treatment while being detained, but he repeated earlier concerns raised by Klugman, saying his health was fragile and he is due to have an operation, without providing further details.
“He will be presented to a judge this morning, but we do not know what time he will be there,” Rustico Lawson-Bankou said.
He was expected to be questioned by a judge in a procedure that would be closed to the public, in line with Togolese judicial procedures.
The investigation involves a complaint from an Emirati businessman who alleges he was the victim of a $48-million (37-million-euro) fraud.
The businessman, Abbas Al Yousef, claims Le Floch-Prigent was acting as his personal adviser during the alleged fraud.
Togo’s former minister of territorial administration, Pascal Bodjona, has been charged over the allegations as well as Togolese businessman Bertin Sow Agba.
A lawyer for Bodjona alleged on Sunday that authorities were targeting his client because there was speculation he planned to run for president in 2015.
The lawyer, Jil-Benoit Afangbedji, alleged there was also speculation that Agba would finance his campaign.
Klugman also claimed his client was caught up in an internal Togolese political affair. He said he feared for the health of Le Floch-Prigent, who turns 69 later this month and has a medical appointment in France on September 26.
The case involves a complex set of circumstances, with accusations that a network claimed to have access to $275 million in a Togolese account left by former Ivorian military ruler Robert Guei, who was killed in 2002.
Al Yousef, who manages investments, including in the oil and gas industry, alleges $48 million was embezzled from him in the affair.
Le Floch-Prigent, currently an oil industry consultant, has already served jail terms in France for corruption which dated from his time as head of Elf from 1989 to 1993.
Several Elf senior managers were jailed after a corruption scandal that broke in the 1990s. The company was taken over by French oil giant Total in 2000.
Le Floch-Prigent’s swift transfer to Togo comes after Lome earlier this year arrested and extradited the former defence minister of Ivory Coast’s disgraced ex-president Laurent Gbagbo.
Moise Lida Kouassi had fled to Togo in the chaotic and bloody months after Gbagbo refused to acknowledge his defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara in November 2010 presidential polls.
Togo, a nation of six million people under French control prior to independence in 1960, has been run by the same family for more than four decades.
The military installed President Faure Gnassingbe in power after the 2005 death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had ruled the west African nation with an iron fist for 38 years. He has since won elections in 2005 and 2010.