Ex-Elf Chief Charged Over Fraud Probe In Togo

LOME, Togo - The former head of French oil giant Elf, Loik Le Floch-Prigent, has been charged with accessory to fraud in Togo after being extradited to the West African nation, his lawyer said Tuesday.

The former Elf CEO was questioned on Monday for about three hours by a Togolese judge who handed down the charge following his lightning-fast extradition from Ivory Coast over the weekend.

His legal team had initially condemned the international transfer, which came the day after his arrest in Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan on Friday as he tried to board an Air France flight to Paris.

His lawyer in France, Patrick Klugman, has since backed off earlier harsh comments on the extradition and said "we are reassured by the care taken by the Togolese authorities in handling this matter."

He added that Le Floch-Prigent had access to his lawyer in Togo as well as French consular assistance.

The Togolese hearing was expected to resume later, possibly on Tuesday. Le Floch-Prigent is being held in an office at the gendarmerie and has not entered a plea but his lawyers have said their client is innocent.

The probe involves a complaint from an Emirati businessman who alleges he was the victim of a $48-million fraud. The purported victim, Abbas Al Yousef, claims Le Floch-Prigent was acting as his personal adviser at the time.

The case centers on accusations that a network claimed to have access to $275 million in a Togolese account left by former Ivorian military ruler Robert Guei, who was killed in 2002.

Al Yousef, who manages investments, including in the oil and gas industry, alleges the $48 million was embezzled from him in the affair.

Togo's former minister of territorial administration, Pascal Bodjona, has also been charged in the case, as well as Togolese businessman Bertin Sow Agba.

Al Yousef claims he was the victim of an advance fee fraud involving Bodjona, and he says the former minister's name and position were used to establish trust. The Emirati says he intended to help those with access to the money invest.

Following Le Floch-Prigent's extradition Saturday, Klugman had denounced the move, saying extradition procedures did not appear to have been respected.

An Ivorian prosecutor however said the transfer was an operation between two police forces in line with Interpol rules.

Klugman also claimed his client was caught up in an internal Togolese political affair. He said he feared for the health of Le Floch-Prigent, who turns 69 this month and has a medical appointment in France on September 26.

Le Floch-Prigent, currently an oil industry consultant, has already served jail terms in France for corruption which dated from his time as head of Elf from 1989 to 1993.

Several Elf senior managers were jailed after a corruption scandal that broke in the 1990s. The company was taken over by French oil giant Total in 2000.

Togo, a nation of six million people under French control prior to independence in 1960, has been run by the same family for more than four decades.

The military installed President Faure Gnassingbe in power after the 2005 death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had ruled the west African nation with an iron fist for 38 years. He has since won elections in 2005 and 2010.


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