A former Miss France has been charged in a long-running inquiry over alleged ill-gotten wealth by Gabon’s former strongman ruler, Omar Bongo, and several of his children, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Sonia Rolland has been charged with receipt of embezzled public funds for accepting from Bongo an apartment worth 800,000 euros ($752,000) in the chic 16th Arrondissement of Paris in 2003.
Rolland, who was 22 at the time, had “obviously recognised that she was naive but contests any wrongdoing,” her lawyer, Charles Morel, told newsmen.
French prosecutors have also charged four of Bongo’s children with embezzlement and corruption on suspicion that they knowingly benefited from a fraudulently-acquired empire of real estate and other assets worth at least 85 million euros.
It included apartments and buildings in Paris and the Mediterranean city of Nice as well as luxury cars, several of which have been seized by French authorities.
In findings released in February, an investigating judge determined that much of the money for the purchases came from “undue commissions” paid by French energy firm Elf, now a part of TotalEnergies, to exploit the country’s vast oil reserves.
According to French daily Liberation, Rolland, now an actress, told investigators last year that the apartment was a gift for her patronage of Miss contests in Africa. She was born in Rwanda.
The buyer of the apartment was a French decorating firm that had a Gabonese subsidiary whose local bank account into which Bongo’s associates would deposit suitcases full of cash, the paper said an investigation published in March 2021.
“My client was 22 years old, she was coming out of a period in which she had been thrown into a world she knew nothing about, neither its codes nor its sordidness,” Morel said.
“At no point did she know the source of the funds nor the financial arrangements,” he said.