African Dictators Financed Former French President With 'Briefcase of Cash'

African leaders gave former French president Jacques Chirac and his prime minister Dominique de Villepin briefcases full of cash, notably to finance election campaigns, alleges a former aide.

Villepin, a potential candidate in next year’s presidential election, denied the allegations, which claim to shed new light on the French political establishment’s often shady relationship with former colonies in Africa.

African expert and lawyer Robert Bourgi, who advised Chirac and Villepin before changing sides to aid now President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2005, made the allegations in France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

Bourgi said he “took part in handing over several briefcases to Jacques Chirac in person, at Paris city hall” when the future president was mayor in the 1980s and 1990s.

“There was never less than five million francs (over 750,000 euros). It could go up to 15 million,” Bourgi said, giving a detailed account of how Chirac would offer him beer while allegedly putting away the bundles of cash.

“I remember the first handing over of funds in Villepin’s presence. The money came from Marshal Mobutu (Sese Seko), president of Zaire (now Democractic Republic of Congo).”

“It was in 1995. He had given me 10 million francs that Jacques Foccart gave to Chirac,” Bourgi said, referring to his predecessor who was president Charles de Gaulle’s pointman for Africa and then briefly also for Chirac.

Bourgi said the money handed over amounted to “several million francs a year. More during elections”.

“In the run-up to the 2002 presidential campaign (won by Chirac), Villepin asked me outright ‘what steps to take’.”

Bourgi said five African heads of state came to Villepin’s office: Senegal’s Abdoulaye Wade, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore, Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo and Congo-Brazzaville’s Denis Sassou Nguesso and Gabon’s Omar Bongo.

There, they “paid around 10 million dollars for the 2002 campaign”, Bourgi alleged.

Villepin strenuously denied the allegations: “This is all just nonsense and smokescreens,” he told the newspaper.