France: Vincent Bollore arrested over alleged corrupt practices in Africa

One of France’s most audacious industrialists and billionaire Vincent Bollore was arrested yesterday. He is being probed for suspected corruption practices in Africa. This arrest comes days after he stepped down as chairman of the media group Vivendi. His holding company the Bolloré Group has however denied any irregularities.

According to reports, he is alleged to have indirectly influenced two election outcomes for governments in West Africa and secured lucrative port contracts for his company in return. He is also accused of corrupting foreign public officials.

Groupe Bollore confirmed to Reuters that its African business interests were under investigation and said the probe related to the billing for work carried out in Guinea and Togo between 2009 and 2010 by its communications business Havas Worldwide. It is alleged that Havas Worldwide worked for Guinean President Alpha Conde and Togolese President Faure Gnassingbe during their elections for almost free.

However, his lawyer Olivier Baratelli told Reuters that the company’s successful tender bids were lawful. He said the group was awarded Guinea’s Conakry container port concession in March 2011 after GETMA, a private logistics company set up in Guinea in 1979, which initially won the contract, failed to meet its contractual commitments. Baratelli said that French prosecutors had already dropped an investigation into how it won the tender in the summer of 2011.

“The award of these two port concessions to Bollore Group is perfectly lawful,” Baratelli said.

A spokesman for the Guinea government Damantang Albert Camara also told Reuters by telephone that “the port concession obtained by Bollore in Guinea was in strict compliance with the laws in force.”

Recently, Bolloré, 67, is reported to have backed out from several of his business interests. Financial Times reported that in March, his company, Vivendi sold its minority stake in French video games developer Ubisoft for €2bn, bringing to an end a three-year hostile relationship between the two companies. Earlier this month, Bolloré stepped down as chairman of the supervisory board of pay-TV business Canal Plus, which is also owned by Vivendi.

Bollore who has a net worth of $7.3 billion, according to Forbes is known to have an empire across advertising, media, construction, and shipping. According to Thomson Reuters data, Groupe Bollore had revenues of 18.3 billion euros ($22.3 billion) in 2017.

The news of Vincent Bollore’s arrest caused the group’s stocks to fall by 6 percent.

A look at Bollore’s Africa Holdings major businesses

Vivendi SA

This is the media business that has gotten him into the current scandal through his subsidiary in Africa. Vivendi’s pay-TV subsidiary Canal Plus Group has been posting a fast subscriber growth. In 2014, the company launched an Africa-focused channel A+ and in February this year, Canal Plus won the rights to broadcast the African Cup of Nations soccer competition. Canal plus is currently present in the french speaking African countries. According to the company, Vivendi’s CanalOlympia is the continent’s leading network of cinemas and live performance venues.

Bollore ports

This is Vincent Bollore’s major business operation in Africa with about 13 percent share in the African market. The port business has about 18 container terminals across several African countries with the West African region accounting for the region where it is present the most. It is currently present in Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Bénin, Nigeria, Cameroon, C.A.R., Gabon and Congo. According to its website, the group has invested more than 3 billion euros in African ports over the past 10 years.

Bollore transports and logistics

Bolloré Railways manages and develops two concessions in Africa—SITARAIL and CAMRAIL—and is working towards establishing a new 2,700 km railway loop that will link five West African countries.

The CAMRAIL link connects Douala, Cameroon’s financial capital, to N’gaoudéré (north province of the country). Camrail operates over 1,000 km of railway tracks. Every year, 1.6 million passengers and 1.8 million tonnes of freight use the network. The SITARAIL connects  Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso. Each year, it enables around 200,000 passengers to travel in total safety and 900,000 tonnes of freight are also transported.

According to Bloomberg, the logistic division caters to the energy, mining and construction sectors and employs 25,000 people across 46 countries. The African logistics operations made 2.37 billion euros ($2.9 billion) in sales last year.