Togo's Elf chief case akin to 419


The Togolese case involving the ex-head of French oil giant Elf, Loik Le Floch-Prigent, centres on allegations of an advance fee fraud, a type of scam often associated with Nigeria due to its prevalence there.

Le Floch-Prigent has been charged with accessory to fraud in Togo after being extradited to the West African nation.

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

The purported victim, Abbas Al Yousef, claims Le Floch-Prigent was acting as his personal adviser at the time.

Advance fee fraud involves obtaining property or money by false pretences. The crime — often perpetrated by scam letters, faxes and e-mails — is also referred to as “419,” in reference to a section of Nigeria’s criminal code.

Such fraud of course also occurs in other countries and there is no known link to Nigeria in the Togolese case.

Perpetrators generally claim to be political refugees, seriously ill or organisers of fake national lotteries. They claim to be in possession of huge fortunes which they seek to transfer to a willing person.

They request their would-be victims to provide bank and contact details to which they would send the money once certain “administrative transfer charges” have been paid to them.

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Once the “advance fee” is paid, the criminals sever all communication with the victim.

The difference in the Togolese case is that the allegations involve prominent individuals, including a former minister.

It has been alleged that a network claimed to have access to $275 million in a Togolese account left by former Ivorian military ruler Robert Guei, who was assassinated in 2002.

Al Yousef, who manages investments, including in the oil and gas industry, alleges $48 million was embezzled from him in the affair and that he was to help those with access to the fortune invest.

Togo’s former minister of territorial administration, Pascal Bodjona, has also been charged in the case, as well as Togolese businessman Bertin Sow Agba.

Doubts have however been raised by some over the allegations.

Antoine Glaser, a French journalist and longtime specialist in African affairs, said the allegations may only be a “smokescreen” for the settling of political or financial scores.

A lawyer for Bodjona, Jil-Benoit Afangbedji, said on Sunday that his client was implicated following rumours of his intended candidature in 2015 elections. He said there were also suggestions that Agba would finance his campaign.

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