Billionaire Vincent Bollore, the tycoon behind the BlueIndy car-sharing service, has been charged by French investigators as part of a probe into the possible use of bribes in two African countries to obtain port contracts from public officials, according to a statement from his company.
The charges stem from a case focusing on suspicions of foul play when Bollore SA was awarded contracts to operate container terminals in Lome, Togo, and Conakry, Guinea.
Bollore is the CEO of chairman of Bollore Group, the parent company of BlueIndy, which it launched in September 2015.
Bollore “remains presumed innocent” as the investigation continues, according to the statement. In France, charges are announced prior to any decision on whether to refer the case to trial and can be dropped later. The move allows his defense team to have access to the case files underpinning the allegations, which they haven’t seen so far, and “have the opportunity to answer these unfounded accusations,” according to the statement.
Investigating judges suspect that managers of Bollore SA used advertising company Havas—previously known as Euro RSCG—to facilitate the elections of presidents Alpha Conde in Guinea and Faure Gnassingbe in Togo nearly a decade ago by providing communications advice at a discount price, according to a person with knowledge of the case. At the time of the events in 2010, Bollore was Havas’s controlling shareholder.
The charges are a sign that French authorities are stepping up their prosecution of international corruption cases. Investigators have other big-ticket cases in the pipeline. They are probing Societe Generale SA over allegations of bribery related to the bank’s work with the Libyan Investment Authority, while Airbus SE reportedly risks a fine in excess of $1 billion in a case also run by U.K. watchdogs.
For years, French regulators were notoriously slow and ineffective in their pursuit of international corruption, earning the country a rebuke from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The case against Bollore, one of France’s richest men with a net worth of $6.6 billion, began following the complaint of a former business partner, the company said in a Tuesday statement.
While other managers were also held for questioning Tuesday alongside the billionaire, the latest company statement doesn’t mention the outcome of their meetings. They too were charged in the case, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Spokesmen for them weren’t immediately available for comment outside regular business hours.
Bollore voluntarily went to police on Tuesday morning and was held for questioning until Wednesday afternoon, when he was brought before the judges leading the investigation.
In France, investigative judges can decide to charge companies or individuals in a procedure known as “mise en examen” when there is “serious and consistent” evidence showing likely involvement in the matter under investigation. They can then decide whether to refer a case to trial, but aren’t involved after that stage.