PM gabs on, drumming up support for the dodgy Bongo
UPDATED 31/03 at 2:00pm (below)
The Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday issued a statement “warmly” welcoming an influential foreign dignitary to Kirribilli House: President Bongo of Gabon. The Punch was immediately taken with the headline potential of this visit from the leader of our third-largest two-way trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa.
But there’s more than a funny headline to this story. It turns out the PM was hanging out with a rather dodgy character yesterday.
If you somehow haven’t heard of Gabon, it’s an oil and resources rich nation in West Africa. It’s next to Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Congo, and a number of other countries you haven’t heard of.
Bongo won an election in 2009. That election however, was marred by violence against members of the opposition and Bongo faced widespread allegations of electoral fraud, according to Amnesty USA. Members of the opposition were arrested without warrant for protesting the results.
Amnesty USA reports:
Gabonese human rights activists and opposition party members claim the Gabonese military killed several dozen people in the city of Port-Gentil, an opposition stronghold, following the announcement of the election results on 2 September 2009.
Lovely. And that’s not all. The current President Ali Bongo is the son of Omar Bongo, who ruled Gabon for 42 years. When Ali Bongo was invited to the White House last year, United Nations consultant Jack Blum alleged to America’s ABC News that the Bongo family had skimmed away 25 per cent of the country’s GDP for themselves in past years.
Now THAT’s a mining tax. The Bongo family have put all this wealth into fleets of Ferraris and huge real estate holdings worldwide. As the American investigation found:
The Bongos have literally dozens of luxury homes worth millions of dollars everywhere from Beverly Hills, where they own three homes, to the French Riviera. After a criminal complaint filed by a human rights group, authorities in France found that the family had more than 30 luxury properties in that nation alone, including a $120 million, 14-bedroom townhouse in Paris that Ali Bongo bought just last year.
The Punch put a call in to Gabon’s Sydney consulate this morning. It turns out the consulate, which consisted of a guy who lives near Manly, shut about 18 months ago.
The Opposition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Julie Bishop, told The Punch this afternoon:
There are serious allegations of decades of massive corruption and human rights abuses in Gabon under the rule of President Bongo and his father.
Prime Minister Gillard must have been aware of these serious allegations prior to her meeting with President Bongo and should justify why she met with him.
It would be deeply troubling if the Prime Minister agreed to meet President Bongo in order to win his support for the government’s campaign for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The Prime Minister must also reveal whether any financial support was provided to President Bongo or his entourage for any part of their visit to Australia.
Prime Minister Gillard recently declined an opportunity to meet the president of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus due to his scepticism about climate change.
It appears the Prime Minister is more concerned about climate change scepticism than allegations of corruption and contempt for human rights.
You at least have to hope Julia Gillard didn’t treat President Bongo to the fine china yesterday.
Welcome to Australia, Mr President. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister told The Punch early Saturday:
The Prime Minister met the President of Gabon [on Thursday] to discuss the growing prospects in our economic relationship.
The meeting focused on current and prospective trade and investment opportunities between our two countries, particularly in minerals and resources, which are important for a number of major Australian companies.
The Punch has learned that some expenses for President Bongo’s visit were paid for by the government, consistent with the Guest of Government guidelines.
It’s also fair to point out that Czech President Klaus’ visit to Australia was not of an official nature.
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