November 30, 2019 / 5:03 PM / 11 days ago

Gabon president's spokesman detained in anti-corruption crackdown

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - The spokesman for Gabonese President Ali Bongo was transferred to the capital’s main prison on Friday, his lawyer said, one of eight people held in custody under a new anti-corruption drive.

Bongo has vowed to crack down on graft since returning from months-long medical leave following a stroke in late 2018 that raised questions about his fitness to rule and fueled instability in oil-dependent nation.

On Friday, prosecutor Andre Roponat said 16 people had been detained as part of an investigation into the misappropriation of public funds and money-laundering. Of these, eight were placed in pre-trial detention and eight were released on bail.

He did not provide names, evidence or detail of the alleged crimes.

Earlier in the week, media reports said that presidential spokesman Ike Ngouoni was one of those detained.

When contacted by Reuters late on Friday, Ngouoni’s lawyer Carol Moussavou said: “I confirm that my client has been placed in custody at Libreville’s central prison.”

She did not give further details.

Roponat said it was too early to say who would face trial as the investigation was ongoing. “Pre-trial detention is not a conviction,” he said in a statement.

Since his return from overseas medical leave in March, Bongo has fired his vice-president and the forests minister over a scandal linked to the disappearance of illegal hardwood worth $250 million, and tasked the prime minister with forming a new government with a view to tackling corruption.

Bongo’s family has been in power for five decades in the small central African country, where declining oil revenues and widespread poverty have dented support for his presidency.

Reporting by Gerauds Wilfried Obangome; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Pravin Char

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