Congo-Brazzaville: Details Emerge About Corruption Surrounding 'Congo Condo' and Sassou Nguesso's Son

The Republic of the Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso at the first plenary session of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art in Sochi, Russia, 24 October 2019.

Anti-corruption campaigners Global Witness have revealed more details about a move by US prosecutors to seize a three million dollar Miami penthouse belonging to Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, the son of Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

Denis Christel allegedly embezzled millions of dollars in public funds from the Congo's state oil company, the Société Nationale des Pétroles du Congo (SNPC), according to US federal prosecutors.

Using a network of shell companies and nominees accounts, the president's son laundered the money to buy real estate and luxury goods in the US, France and elsewhere.

US prosecutors say Denis Christel spent $29m over a period of 10 years buying assets and paying for an extravagant lifestyle.

The US Department of Justice told Global Witness that Denis Christel funnelled money from SNPC into accounts in the names of shell companies such as Mercuria, Atlas Logistique and SCI Etoile, using the Congolese subsidiary of BGFI Bank Group, a Gabonese bank.

One of the nominee accounts was in the name of a son of a former Gabonese government official, described as "Associate A", a long-time acquaintance of Denis-Christel.

Associate A created fictitious invoices on behalf of the 45-year-old Congolese politician, including one invoice for $3.5m for "kitchen appliances and other expenses", Global Witness said.

Cash for contracts

Denis Christel opened several US bank accounts, some allegedly using an alias, and lied about his profession and income.

As well as siphoning funds from the Congolese state oil company, the president's son also accepted bribes of more than $1.5m, the complaint says, in exchange for contracts on behalf of SNPC.

He also then ensured that companies he had an interest in were given the status of local partner for the oil projects.

Besides Associate A, and Denis Christel's first wife, Danielle Ognanosso, an unnamed Florida lawyer was also implicated in the alleged corruption and purchase of the Miami property.

Global Witness said it approached both Denis Christel and the government in Brazzaville for comment, but it did not receive a response.

SNPC said it would "closely examine" the accusations before responding further, while BGFI Group did not respond to a request for comment, according to Global Witness.

'Masterpiece' penthouse

In the civil forfeiture case filed in Miami, federal prosecutors are suing to seize the "Congo condo", penthouse unit #6107 at 900 Biscayne Blvd, reported the Miami Herald on 18 June.

Prosecutors say Denis Christel, transferred the deed to the property, purchased in October 2012, to his wife Nathalie Bumba-Pembe, to hide his ownership. Neither Denis Christel nor his wife are named are named as defendants or charged with a crime.

The penthouse is currently listed for sale at $2,999,000, described as having 3 bedrooms and in "immaculate" condition, with "over $1.5m spent in renovations, furnishings and electronics".

Denis Christel's "mansion in the sky" on the 61st floor, provides "sweeping views of the ocean, bay, Miami Beach skyline, cruise ships and sunrise", a real estate advert says.

"Major international corruption cases of public notoriety involving members of the presidential family or top government ministers remain to date without response from the Congolese justice system," said a number of Congolese civil society groups in a joint statement.

The attempt to seize assets in Florida is the latest by authorities around the world to uncover and seize the alleged ill-gotten gains of the Sassou Nguesso family, which has ruled Congo for some 35 years. French authorities in 2015 seized their luxury apartment in Paris.

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