Wife of Gabon Ousted President Bags Jail Term

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The wife of Gabon’s deposed president, Ali Bongo Ondimba, who has been under house arrest since a late August coup over the suspected embezzlement of public funds, has been jailed, her lawyer said.

Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Valentin, who is Franco-Gabonese, was imprisoned late on Wednesday, her Paris-based lawyer Francois Zimeray told AFP, condemning the “arbitrary illegal procedure”.

The 60-year-old was charged on September 28 with money laundering, forgery and falsification of records.

According to Gabonese media reports, she was taken into custody at a prison in the capital Libreville following a long hearing in front a judge.

Sylvia Bongo had been under house arrest in Libreville since August 30 coup brought the curtain down on 55 years of rule by the Bongo dynasty.

Ali Bongo, 64, who had ruled the central African country since 2009, was overthrown by military leaders moments after being proclaimed the winner in a presidential election.

The election result was branded a fraud by the opposition and the military coup leaders, who have also accused his regime of widespread corruption and bad governance.

The putschists accuse Sylvia Bongo of having manipulated the former president, who is suffering the after-effects of a serious stroke in 2018.

They say she and one of the couple’s sons have effectively pulled the strings in the oil-rich country for the past five years and have misused public money.

Their eldest son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, has been charged with corruption and embezzling public funds with several former cabinet members and two ex-ministers.

Sylvia Bongo had been isolated from her husband, and her French lawyers had complained of what they said “appears to be a hostage-taking”.

“We condemned this illegal procedure,” lawyer Zimeray said on Thursday following her jailing.

There is a difference between justice and arbitrary actions, between the law and revenge.

The public prosecutor in Libreville has not yet responded to an AFP request for comment.

Many in Gabon saw the overthrow of the Bongo dynasty as an act of liberation rather than a military coup.

Ali Bongo was elected after his father Omar died in 2009 after nearly 42 years in power.

Gabon is Africa’s third-richest nation in terms of per-capita GDP but one in three people lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Noureddin Bongo Valentin was indicted last month and placed in provisional detention for alleged corruption.

In all, 10 people were indicted on charges ranging from electoral college operational issues, counterfeiting and use of the seals of the republic, to corruption, embezzlement of public funds and money laundering.

Two former ministers for oil and public works have also been detained.

Bongo, who was himself under house arrest for several days after the coup, is free to move around and go abroad, Gabon’s new military ruler, General Brice Oligui Nguema said a week after the coup.

The new strongman lost no time in warning that corruption would no longer be tolerated.

He has set up a civilian government and appointed members of a new national assembly and senate for a transitional period ahead of promised elections on an unknown date.

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