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First Congo leader to be convicted of treason

January 10, 2002


BRAZZAVILLE: The Congo’s former president Pascal Lissouba has been sentenced to 30 years of hard labour for what a Brrazzaville court has referred to as “high treason,” this the result of a decision rendered Dec. 28th, in Lissouba’s absence, the former president presently living in London.

Four of his former ministers, also living in exile, were equally condemned to hard labour - 20 years in their case - by the court for misappropriation of public funds (“détournement de deniers publics”) as well as abuse of authority (“forfaiture”).

Moreover, the five personalities were collectively fined a total of 2.63 billion Francs ($340 million), with their bank accounts abroad, notably in Switzerland, to be frozen, and Lissouba ordered to “restitute” to Congolese authorities his townhouse located in Paris on Rue de Prony, in the chic 17th arrondissement not far from the Parc Monceau and the Champs-Elysées, for which he allegedly paid out 18 million Francs ($2.4 million) in public funds.

The $340 million figure is not far from the estimated $500 million in oil-related losses allegedly suffered by the Congo during the presidency of Lissouba, who fled the country in 1997.

According to one of the witnesses at the trial, former Elf chairman Loic Le Floch-Prigent who was personally in charge of oil extraction in the Congo, “I was angered to read the contract signed between Lissouba and Occidental Petroleum (Oxy), which awarded to Oxy rights to Congolese oil at $3 a barrel, when on the market it was worth at the time $14.”

According to other witnesses, Lissouba signed a contract with Oxy according to which the Congo received the rights to 50 million barrels of oil in exchange for a payment of $150 million, although in Le Flogh-Prigent’s eyes it should have been closer to $700 million.

At the time of the signing of the contract, Elf held a monopoly over oil extracted in the Congo, and was considered a special reserve (“chasse gardée”) of France.

Occidental Petroleum is an American company, and its arrival in the Congo in April 1993 was badly seen at the time by not only Elf and Le Floch-Prigent, but also the French State headed by Francois Mitterrand.

The French government, under Mitterrand and his successor current head of state Jacques Chirac, are largely credited with unseating Lissouba and replacing him in 1997, after a bloody civil war, with Denis Sassou-Nguesso, a pro-French head of state who had been replaced by Lissouba in 1992.

In the words of Lissouba’s former finance minister Clement Mouamba, referring to Lissouba’s having sought Oxy’s financial support with a view to the financing of legislative elections that Lissouba feared would be won by Sassou Nguesso’s forces, but which he eventually won, “I was humiliated to have to sign a contract which I was not even allowed to read,” as the contract had allegedly been imposed, indeed authored, by Occidental Petroleum.

The $150 million was paid as promised, but into the personal bank account of Lissouba’s chief of staff Claudine Munari, who also testified at the trial held late December in Brazzaville. It was used, she testified, to pay not only the cost of Lissouba’s campaign, but also three months back salaries of Congolese civil servants.