Gabon’s First Family Stashed Cash in DC Property

The Bongo’s own circle of relatives has dominated Gabon for over 5 decades — and for almost as lengthy, they were accused of looting their nation’s wealth. Authorities in France and the U.S. have through the years investigated bundles of coins, custom-designed cars, and highly-priced homes, property probably bought with proceeds of corruption.

The Wesley Heights neighborhood in Washington, D.C., where the half-sister of Gabon’s president owned a home for nearly 20 years before selling it in August for $1.1 million in cash. Credit: KIra Zalan/OCCRP

Now newshounds have found that during the last decades, the Bongos and their internal circle — inclusive of a decide who has been instrumental in assisting the own circle of relatives dangle directly to power — have bought at the least seven homes really well worth over US$4.2 million in and close to the U.S. capital, a vacation spot whose actual property has lengthy attracted African dictators. The Bongos’ Washington, D.C.-region houses had been all bought with coins.

Rules supposed to save you the laundering of illicit price range don’t require actual property specialists inside the U.S. to invite questions on all-coins transactions or to record suspicious hobby to authorities. This loss of responsibility has drawn repeated complaints from the Financial Action Task Force, a Paris-primarily based totally worldwide anti-cash laundering watchdog, which recognized it as a vulnerability inside the U.S. economic system.

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In an obvious attempt to bridge this gap, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has issued transient orders in centered places taken into consideration to be high-hazard for cash laundering. In 2016, the organization ordered actual property name groups in a few counties in California, New York, Florida, and Texas to record all-coins assets purchases over a positive amount. The maximum current order, renewed in advance this month, calls for name groups in 12 U.S. metropolitan regions to pick out people in the back of shell groups shopping for assets with coins. Washington, D.C. isn’t on that list.

“If you undergo a bank, there are genuinely a few quite desirable policies in the area,” stated Gary Kalman, the director of Transparency International’s U.S. office, relating to the due diligence necessities in the area for economic establishments that system loan loans. But “in case you make an all-coins buy with a nameless corporation outdoor of these 12 metropolitan regions, there are no policies whatsoever,” stated Kalman.

Credit: Marion Kaplan / Alamy Stock Photo
Omar Bongo’s image in Libreville in 2007, during the 40th year of his presidency.

The Bongo family’s proclivity for coins isn’t always new to U.S. authorities. When he turned into the president, Omar Bongo brought $1 million in shrink-wrapped $a hundred payments to the U.S. and exceeded it over to one in every one of his daughters, Yamilee Bongo-Astier. The unemployed college scholar saved the stash in a financial institution protection deposit container and, while questioned, advised financial institution personnel that she predicted extra finances from her father to buy a $2.2 million apartment minimum in New York City, in keeping with a 2010 Senate record on illicit economic flows into the United States.

According to the Senate record, Bongo-Astier turned into capable of deposit big sums of her father’s coins into debts in U.S. banks, which frequently did now no longer flag her as a politically uncovered person, a designation that would have brought about better scrutiny of the supply of these finances. She additionally showed that she offered luxurious motors for Gabonese officers inside the U.S. at her father’s request.

By the time of his loss of life in 2009, Omar Bongo had dominated oil-wealthy Gabon for over 4 a long time and gathered a fortune that reportedly covered as a minimum 183 cars, 39 luxurious homes in France, and sixty-six financial institution debts. In the country’s capital, Libreville, this accumulation of wealth unique to the president, his family, and their internal circle is popularly called the “Bongo system.” Meanwhile, a 3rd of Gabon’s populace lives in poverty, in keeping with the World Bank.

A boy poses for a photo in the Atong Abe neighborhood in Libreville, Gabon, September 25, 2016. REUTERS/Edward McAllister – S1BEUDITOKAA

The patriarch’s son, Ali Bongo — a funk singer whose album “A Brand New Man” loved a few success — have become president after his father’s death.

Ali Bongo’s election and re-elections had been closely disputed with the aid of using political opposition, with the problem going all of the manners to the very best courtroom docket, that’s headed with the aid of using Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo, the elder Bongo’s one-time romantic partner.

Nicknamed 3M, the 65-year-vintage decide to become the founding president of the Constitutional Court of Gabon and has been instrumental in making sure the sturdiness of the Bongos’ reign thru numerous felony demanding situations to their rule. Her courtroom docket oversaw the contested electoral effects in 2009 and 2016 and sided each instance with the president.

In this photo taken Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2009, supporters of opposition candidate Pierre Momboundou rally outside the office of the electoral commission as they await results from Gabon’s presidential election, in Libreville, Gabon. Opposition leaders undertook a nearly 24-hour protest outside the election commission Wednesday evening and Thursday as they awaited election results. The constitutional court Friday, Sept. 4, declared the son of Gabon’s late dictator the victor of a disputed presidential election, extinguishing the opposition’s last chance for legal redress and increasing tension in a nation wracked by postelection violence. (AP Photo/Joel Bouopda Tatou)

In 2018, while President Bongo has become ill and changed into reportedly being dealt with within Saudi Arabia, handiest the Constitutional Court should legally claim an energy vacancy, which made Mborantsuo “the kingmaker,” stated Oumar Ba, an assistant professor of political technology at Morehouse College. Instead, the choose and her courtroom docket amended the charter to permit the cupboard to convene and the VP to anticipate brief energy till the president’s return.

“In many ways, she isn’t handiest a dad or mum of the institutions, however additionally the enforcer of the perpetuation of the Bongos presidency, stepping in and doing what’s needed,” Ba informed.

Credit: Government of Gabon Facebook page
Judge Marie-Madeleine Mborantsuo and Gabonese President Ali Bongo.
Mborantsuo and her youngsters personal 3 homes inside the Washington area.
Credit: OCCRP
Mborantsuo and her daughter purchased a $1.5 million townhouse in 2013 without a mortgage.

In 2013, Mboranstuo sold a townhouse together along with her daughter for $1.five million in coins, in a small cul-de-sac nestled withinside the rich Palisades community of northwest Washington. The picturesque community, covered with lush timber and colonial houses, homes the big attention of diplomats and authorities officials. According to public information acquired through reporters, the 3-bed room belongings become rented out for $7,000 consistent with the month in 2013.

Credit: OCCRP The Washington, D.C., townhouse purchased with $1.5 million in cash by Mboranstuo and her daughter in 2013.
Two condos inside the middle of the metropolis have been bought with a complete of over $1 million in coins inside the names of Mboranstuo’s son and daughter, in 2008 and 2015. The first apartment, which becomes offered this September for greater than 1/2 of 1,000,000 greenbacks in coins, is placed one block far from former U.S. President Barack Obama’s non-public workplace inside the tony West End community of the state’s capital.
Credit: OCCRP
Ounaida Bongo sold her DC townhouse for $1.1 million in cash this summer, five weeks after the US Justice Department moved to seize a $3.5 million Maryland home belonging to former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh.

Mborantsuo, who declined to reply to questions from reporters, additionally reportedly owns actual property in South Africa and France.

Her professional profits aren’t publicly known, however, a Gabonese Minister of State reportedly earned an annual profit of around $140,000 in 2018, elevating questions across the coin’s actual property purchases. Radio France Internationale said in 2017 that the French government is investigating Mborantsuo for corruption and cash laundering.

A quick force from Mborantsuo’s D.C. residence is a fashionable townhouse owned through Ounaida Bongo, the 1/2 of-sister of the present-day Gabonese president. Ms. Bongo, a one-time unique adviser for communications in Gabon’s Presidential Palace, bought the house in Washington’s special Wesley Heights community in 2001 for $642,000 coins. The revamped 3-bed room residence, which she offered for $1.1 million coins in August, sits in a gated network off Massachusetts Avenue, a verdant side road of luxurious apartments, grand mansions, brownstones, and D.C.’s ancient Embassy Row.

The residence becomes indexed available in the marketplace weeks after the U.S. Justice Department moved to seize a $3.five million domestic in close by Potomac, Maryland, belonging to Yahya Jammeh, the previous president of the West African state of Gambia. The authorities stated in its criticism that the belongings become bought with embezzled public funds.

Ms. Bongo couldn’t be reached for comment.

Not all of the participants of the prolonged Bongo own circle of relatives invested in high D.C. actual property.

Credit: OCCRP
Brice Clotaire Oligui-Nguema, the Gabonese president’s cousin, purchased this $447,000 Silver Spring property in 2018 without a mortgage.
Credit: OCCRP
Oligui-Nguema purchased a $447,000 Maryland property in 2018 without a mortgage.

Brice Clotaire Oligui-Nguema, the president’s cousin, becomes currently appointed head of the elite navy unit referred to as the Republican Guard, consistent with Gabonese information outlets. He sold 3 homes in the middle- and working-elegance neighborhoods inside the Maryland suburbs of Hyattsville and Silver Spring, simply out of doors the capital, in 2015 and 2018. The houses have been bought with a complete of over $1 million in coins.

He declined to reply to questions from reporters, saying: “I assume whether or not in France or inside the United States, a non-public existence is a non-public existence that [should be] respected.”

OCCRP / TechConflict.Com

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