French tycoon Bollore held over suspected Africa corruption: legal sources

Cornelia Mascio
Aprile 24, 2018

Yannick Bollore, 37-year-old son of Vincent, serves as chairman/CEO of Havas.

French police questioned billionaire Vincent Bollore on Tuesday over allegations his Groupe Bollore worked on the election campaigns of presidential candidates in Africa in return for lucrative port contracts.

After his election, Conde terminated the contract of Conakry port's existing operator and gave it to the Bollore Group.

Investigating judges reportedly suspect that certain executives used advertising company Havas to help elect African officials by providing communications advice almost 10 years ago at a discount price, the source said.

According to a report from France 24 Bollore director general, Gilles Alix, and Havas senior manager Phillippe Dorent were also taken into custody for questioning.

The investigation is a sign that French authorities are stepping up their prosecution of worldwide corruption cases - and aren't afraid to go after top executives. He is the biggest shareholder in Vivendi SA.

French newspaper Le Monde said the investigation focused on port deals in the Togolese capital, Lome, and Conakry in Guinea.

The Bollore Group, according to its statement released today, "formally denies that its subsidiary company SDV Africa has committed irregularities". "Bollore Group executives welcome this opportunity to fully cooperate with the judicial authorities to restore the truth about those facts".

In 2016, police searched the Bollore Group's headquarters in the Paris suburb of Puteaux.

Bollore-related companies have faced other legal cases in the past.

Placing a suspect in custody for interrogation rather than issuing a simple summons is an age-old "spectacular" trick created to unsettle the billionaire that had already been used on former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, according to Bonifassi.

Bollore's lawyers did not answer telephone calls.

The billionaire was the majority owner of Havas before it was acquired by Vivendi in 2017.

Bollore shares fell as much as 8 percent in Paris trading. They've declined 7.8 percent so far this year.

"The link that some are trying to make between the winning of these concessions and the communication operations has no business logic and reveals a total lack of understanding of this industrial sector", Groupe Bollore said.

Known as a corporate raider and a close friend of Sarkozy, he is one of France's richest men, with a net worth of $6.6 billion.

Bollore has access to ports in West and Central Africa, holding concessions to operate container terminals in 15 nations including Guinea, Togo and Nigeria.

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