Wife of Gabon's deposed leader Ali Bongo jailed

Wife of Gabon's deposed leader Ali Bongo jailed
Wife of Gabon's deposed leader Ali Bongo jailed

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Gabon's First Lady Sylvia Bongo Ondimba attends the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group A football match between Gabon and Guinea-Bissau at the Stade de l'Amitie Sino-Gabonaise in Libreville on January 14, 2017. — AFP pic

LIBREVILLE, Gabon, Oct 12 — The wife of Gabon's deposed president Ali Bongo Ondimba, who has been under house arrest since a late August coup over alleged embezzlement of public funds, was today put in a Libreville prison.

Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Valentin, who is Franco-Gabonese, was charged on September 28 with money laundering, forgery and falsification of records.

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The 60-year-old was provisionally imprisoned in the early hours following a long hearing in front of a judge, her lawyer Gisele Eyue-Bekale told AFP.

The lawyer said a request for a hearing in 10 days had been granted, at which she would be able to appeal for her client's release.

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Sylvia Bongo and one of the couple's sons are under investigation as part of a wider inquiry into alleged massive embezzlement of public money.

Their eldest son, Noureddin Bongo Valentin, has been detained as well as six former cabinet officials, according to legal sources.

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

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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 and Noureddin of having manipulated the former president, who is suffering the after-effects of a serious stroke in 2018.

They are accused of having effectively pulled the strings in the oil-rich country for the past five years.

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," her Paris-based lawyer Francois Zimeray said on Thursday following her jailing.

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

Bongo dynasty

The public prosecutor in Libreville has yet to respond 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.

Bongo has opted to stay at his residence, according to the new regime.

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.

Sylvia Bongo is being held in Libreville's central jail, lawyer Eyue-Bekale said, "undoubtedly" in the recently renovated women's section in a new wing where detainees have their own bed, a bathroom and a laundry.

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