Bollore Group’s concession to build a container port in Guinea’s capital Conakry was in strict compliance with the law, a government spokesman said on Tuesday, reacting to news of a probe by French authorities into the group’s Africa operations.
French billionaire Vincent Bollore, whose sprawling logistics empire is a corporate powerhouse in former French colonies across West Africa, is suspected of corrupting foreign public officials and complicity in corruption, his lawyer said. He denied any wrongdoing by Bollore.
According to a local media report, the cases being probed concern Guinea and Togo.
The port concession obtained by Bollore in Guinea was in strict compliance with the laws in force.
“The port concession obtained by Bollore in Guinea was in strict compliance with the laws in force,” Damantang Albert Camara told Reuters by telephone.
A senior source in the office of President Alpha Conde, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak, said: “we are not concerned by these allegations, which make no sense.”
Shares in holding company Groupe Bollore SA fell as much as 8 percent on the news of his interrogation, while shares in Vivendi, in which the company holds a 20.5 percent stake, also fell around 1 percent.
The group confirmed in a statement 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 also denied any wrongdoing, pledging to cooperate with the investigation.
French authorities tighten the noose
The questioning of Bollore is a sign French authorities are stepping up their years-long investigation, and are prepared to take on one of France’s wealthiest individuals who built a reputation as a corporate raider.
Bollore has a net worth of $7.3 billion, according to Forbes.
Police have up to 48 hours to investigate Bollore, after which a judge may be asked whether there are grounds for a formal investigation to be launched – the next step towards a possible trial.
Bollore’s legal woes add another challenge to his son Yannick, who the Vivendi board anointed as chairman after Bollore stepped down last week and who still heads Havas.
Vincent Bollore remains the owner of Groupe Bollore. A source close to Bollore said his departure as Vivendi chairman was not related to the investigation.
Groupe Bollore’s Bollore Africa Logistics has a strong grip on port operations in West Africa, holding 16 container port concessions, as well as several rail concessions. It employs 25,000 people and posted revenues of 18.3 billion euros ($22.3 billion) in 2017 according to Thomson Reuters data.