Written by 16 h 32 min Corruption and embezzlement litigation, Strategic litigation

Procedures & Milestones : Ill-Gotten Gains – Congo Brazzaville

Denis Sassou N’Guesso, President of the Republic of Congo, Aug. 5, 2014.
Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon © WikiCommons

FACTS : Congo is a country rich in natural resources, including oil, timber and precious minerals or metals. The country has recently become the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. However, one third of the Congolese population lives below the poverty line. Congo has a low Human Development Index, reflecting the country’s instability and poor governance, to the detriment of local populations.

In 2007, Denis Sassou Nguesso, the Congolese president, and members of his entourage were suspected of embezzling their country’s public assets and property. Indeed, the president’s entourage has significant assets on French territory, the total value of which would in all likelihood far exceed the cumulative number of salaries and wages generated by their known activities.

May 2007 and July 2008 The voluntary associations Sherpa, Survie and Fédération des Congolais de la Diaspora filed a complaint with the Paris Public Prosecutor’s Office. They denounced the misdoings of five foreign Heads of States, among them Denis Sassou Nguesso, highlighting the suspicions of misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement, corruption and money laundering, and also providing prima facie evidence of investment of those illegal proceeds in France

A preliminary investigation was ordered, then closed on grounds of insufficient evidence of any offence.

2 December 2008 A Sherpa along with Transparency International France filed a criminal complaint, together with an application to join the proceedings as a civil party.

9 November 2010  Our application as civil party within the criminal action against Congolese foreign officials was granted by a decision of the supreme court.

23 April 2012 – A criminal debt attachment order was issued by the investigating judge against Mrs. Danièle Mboussou Ognanosso, the wife of Denis Sassou Nguesso’s nephew. She appealed.

11 October 2012 Mrs. Danièle Mboussou Ognanosso raised a “question prioritaire de constitutionnalité” (QPC – an application for a preliminary ruling on the constitutionality of a legislative provision) against the debt attachment order, having regard to the right of priority.

19 November 2012 The investigative chamber of the Paris Court of Appeal ordered the staying of proceedings pending the decision on the QPC application. In so doing, it retracted its earlier decision the same day refusing to forward the QPC application, which it thereupon forwarded to the Court of Cassation.

As a reminder, a QPC application on a point of constitutionality may be referred to any jurisdiction falling under the Conseil d’État (Council of State) or the Court of Cassation. Only the assize court has no jurisdiction to receive such a referral. However, in criminal proceedings, the question may be raised either pre-trial, before the investigating judge or afterwards, in first-tier appeal-court proceedings or in a second-tier cassation referral.

The jurisdiction to which the QPC application is made forthwith conducts an initial examination, ascertaining whether the question is admissible and whether the criteria laid down by the enabling constitutional bylaw (loi organique) are fulfilled. If all these conditions are met, that jurisdiction forwards the constitutionality application to the supreme appeal jurisdiction of either the Council of State or the Court of Cassation, which investigates the constitutionality issue in greater depth and decides whether to refer the matter to the Constitutional Council.

October 2014 – Seizure of Sassou Nguesso clan’s property.

11 July 2017 – The sister-in-law of Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso and his nephew, who is also the director of the presidential estate, are indicted for “laundering of public funds” in the ill-gotten gains case.

27 octobre 2017 – First conviction in the related Equatorial Guinea ill-gotten gains case. The Paris Court of First Instance convicts, in his absence, the vice-president of Equatorial Guinea Teodorin Obiang, son of the president

2019-2020 – The British NGO Global Witness published several articles on corruption and laundering practices linked to Congolese state affairs. 

In 2021 – The case is still ongoing.

Today – The issue of the restitution of stolen assets to the deprived populations remains at the center of the dight against international corruption and financial crimes. Sherpa now focuses efforts on creating a biding and constraining legal framework to ensure that the proceeds of corruption seized during ill-gotten gains cases are returned for the benefit of the population following the principles of transparency accountability and traceability.

Our fight against economic crimes must enable victims to have effective access to justice.

ill-gotten gains cases illustrate the potential adverse impact of international corruption and financial crimes, being the prime cause of economic, political, cultural and social development gaps. In fragile and conflict-affected countries, corruption constitute a major barrier to growth and development, and decreases State capacity to address violations of civil and political rights and to make the necessary provisions to protect Human rights democracy and the environment, to mention but a few exemples.

→ Read our position paper

Last modified: 11 October 2021