Major anti-corruption trial gets underway in Gabon
One of Gabon's biggest trials for corruption got underway on Thursday, in a case featuring senior civil servants and former ministers.
The trial is taking place in a recently-created judicial unit, the Special Criminal Court, in the capital Libreville.
The high-profile case follows from an anti-graft campaign called Operation Mamba, launched in early 2017.
The first defendant to appear on Thursday was Blaise Wada, a senior civil servant in charge with managing international funds for an project to clean up the city's watershed.
He is accused of siphoning off 1.765 billion CFA francs (about $3.3 million, 2.7 million euros).
Others scheduled to appear in the coming weeks include former economy minister Magloire Ngambia and former oil minister Etienne Dieudonne Ngoubou. The accusations against them have not been made public.
Defence lawyers said their clients have been targeted for "political" reasons, while campaigners say Operation Mamba is a public-relations exercise.
"Certain former friends of (Gabonese President) Ali Bongo are on trial today at the so-called Criminal Court for misuse of funds," Marc Ona, head of the grassroots group Brainforest, said on Twitter.
"How much credit can we give to Operation Mamba if the main figures in financial crimes are jailing the people who carry them out?"
Oil-rich Gabon occupies the rank of 101 out of 176 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
Bongo's father Omar Bongo ruled Gabon from 1967 to 2009 and was under investigation in former colonial ruler France for acquiring prime real estate in the country worth 68 million euros ($83 million), according to French media reports, by allegedly stealing state funds.
Ali Bongo's former cabinet secretary Maixent Accrombessi was charged in France in November with corruption and money laundering.