The wife of Gabon’s ousted president Ali Bongo Ondimba has been charged with “money laundering” and other offences, the public prosecutor said Friday, a month after her husband was toppled in a coup.
Sylvia Bongo was charged by an investigating judge on Thursday and ordered to remain under house arrest, Andre Patrick Roponat announced on state TV channels.
She also faces other charges including concealment and forgery, he said.
Sylvia Bongo has been under house arrest in the capital Libreville since the August 30 coup brought the curtain down on 55 years of Bongo dynasty rule.
She has been isolated from her husband and her French lawyers filed a complaint in Paris against what they said “appears to be a hostage-taking”.
“No one is above the law but the law must be respected for all,” one of her lawyers Francois Zimeray told AFP on Friday.
“What to think of a justice system which keeps people in solitary confinement for weeks before charging them, without having access to a defence?”
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.
Many saw it 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.
His son Noureddin Bongo Valentin was indicted earlier this 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, Roponat had told a press conference.
Seven including Noureddin Bongo have been detained.
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.
In October 2018, Bongo suffered a stroke that sidelined him for 10 months.
Oligui, in a speech to the Republican Guard this month, accused the former “First Lady” and Noureddin of having “squandered” the president’s power.
“Because since his stroke, they have falsified the signature of the president, they gave orders in his place,” he said.
The new strongman lost no time in warning that corruption would no longer be tolerated.
Immediately after seizing power, he summoned around 200 Gabonese business leaders to a meeting. Broadcast on state television, he sternly warned business leaders against “over-billing” and told them to commit to the “development of the country”.
He also vowed to make sure the overcharged money “comes back to the state”.
Oligui has promised to hand back the country to civilian rule with elections after a transitional period, although no timeframe has been set.
Throughout the last month, he has held a hectic round of intense consultations with all sections of the population.
He has set up institutions to manage the country ahead of a new constitution which promises to be “more respectful of human rights” and will be voted on in a referendum, before “free and transparent elections”.
The interim prime minister Raymond Ndong Sima was a prominent opponent of Bongo, and his government includes politicians and civil society members who were also opposed to Bongo, as well as former regime insiders.
Oligui has pledged to improve conditions for the poor but the political, economic and social challenges facing the country are considerable.
In Africa’s third-richest nation in terms of per-capita GDP, one in three lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.