France's Bollore seeks damages over Benin rail project
French transport giant Bollore said Tuesday it would seek compensation for work already carried out on a major rail infrastructure project after Benin asked it to withdraw "amicably" in favour of China.
Patrice Talon, president of the small West African country, said both the French conglomerate and its local rival Petrolin would be "compensated fairly", without elaborating.
Philippe Labonne, deputy CEO of Bollore Transport and Logistics, said the firm should be compensated notably for the some 140 kilometres (85 miles) of rail it has already laid down.
"We are a little disappointed not to complete" the project, he said, speaking to AFP on the sidelines of a business forum in the Ivorian business hub Abidjan.
The project dates to 2008, when Benin and Niger invited bids for the construction and management of a 740-kilometre (462-mile) railway linking their respective capitals Cotonou and Niamey.
The project was first awarded to Petrolin, a company owned by Beninese businessman Samuel Dossou, but was handed over in 2013 to the Bollore group through Benirail, a company representing a public-private partnership.
However last October, a Benin judge ruled that Petrolin should have had the contract and dismissed Bollore.
Then last week Talon asked Bollore and Petrolin to "withdraw amicably" from the project.
"A private investor cannot finance the railway we want alone," Talon told the French business magazine Challenges, describing Bollore's offer as "lower-end".
"China has the necessary financial means" to support work estimated to cost around $4 billion (3.3 billion euros), Talon said.
"China has demonstrated its technical know-how" to build infrastructure in Africa, added the president, who rarely speaks to the media.
After years in court and months of negotiations, the project remains at a standstill, hampering growth in the country of 10 million inhabitants whose economy depends on distribution of goods from its port.
China is deeply invested in Africa, regularly offering low-interest loans and gifts to individual nations and doing $149.2 billion (120.3 billion euros) in trade with the continent in 2016.