Ex-Elf chief to appear in Togo court over fraud probe

The former head of French oil giant Elf, Loik Le Floch-Prigent, is due to appear in a Togolese court Monday after being extradited in a fraud probe, a move condemned by his lawyer.

Theformer Elf chairman was arrested in Ivory Coast's economic capital Abidjan on Friday night as he tried to board an Air France flight to Paris, an Ivorian security source said.

He was transferred to Togo the next day, under an international arrest warrant, and is due to appear in court in the Togolese capital Lome on Monday.

Le Floch-Prigent's lawyer Patrick Klugman denounced the swift international transfer.

"The forms of extradition as we currently know them were not respected," Klugman said. He earlier condemned the transfer as a "kidnapping" but later backtracked from the remark.

An Ivorian prosecutor however said the international transfer was an operation between two police forces.

"No court decision was made and no magistrate was involved in the transfer, which took place as part of a police-to-police procedure, following the rules of Interpol," the international police organisation, deputy prosecutor Noel Dje said.

The investigation involves a complaint from an Emirati businessman who alleges he was the victim of a $48-million (37-million-euro) fraud.

A judicial source in Togo has said that the Emirati businessman, Abbas Al Yousef, claims Le Floch-Prigent was acting as his personal adviser during the alleged fraud.

Togo's former minister of territorial administration, Pascal Bodjona, has been charged over the allegations as well as Togolese businessman Bertin Sow Agba.

A lawyer for Bodjona alleged on Sunday that authorities were targeting his client because there was speculation he planned to run for president in 2015.

The lawyer, Jil-Benoit Afangbedji, alleged there was also speculation that Agba would finance his campaign.

"That is at the root of this matter," he said. "It is a purely political affair."

Klugman also claimed his client was caught up in an internal Togolese political affair.

Klugman said he knew where Le Floch-Prigent was being held and that his client had been able to consult with a lawyer in Togo. But he also said he feared for the health of Le Floch-Prigent, who turns 69 later this month and has a medical appointment in France on September 26.

The case involves a complex set of circumstances, with accusations that a network claimed to have access to $275 million in a Togolese account left by former Ivorian military ruler Robert Guei, who was killed in 2002.

Al Yousef alleges $48 million was embezzled from him in the affair.

Le Floch-Prigent, currently an oil industry consultant, has already served jail terms in France for corruption which dated from his time as head of Elf from 1989 to 1993.

Several Elf senior managers were jailed after a corruption scandal that broke in the 1990s. The company was taken over by French oil giant Total in 2000.

Le Floch-Prigent, who was first jailed for five months in France in 1996 for misuse of company assets, claimed at the time that Elf had been "considered as an arm of the state's foreign policy".

He was jailed again in 2003 on other charges and freed on probation in 2004 on health grounds on condition that he pay compensation, at a rate based on his own revenues, to Total for the case involving Elf.

He was sent back to jail for six months in 2010 for failing to pay adequate compensation to Total.

Le Floch-Prigent's swift transfer to Togo comes after Lome earlier this year arrested the former defence minister of Ivory Coast's disgraced ex-president Laurent Gbagbo.

Moise Lida Kouassi had fled to Togo in the chaotic and bloody months after Gbagbo refused to acknowledge his defeat to current President Alassane Ouattara in November 2010 presidential polls.

The crisis led to about 3,000 deaths and Ivory Coast's new government issued several arrest warrants for members of the old regime.

Togo, a nation of six million people under French control prior to independence in 1960, has been run by the same family for more than four decades.

The military installed President Faure Gnassingbe in power after the 2005 death of his father Gnassingbe Eyadema, who had ruled the west African nation with an iron fist for 38 years. He has since won elections in 2005 and 2010.

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