Congo Leader's Son Denies Payments From Ex-Gunvor Trader Bribes

(Bloomberg) -- Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso’s son denied receiving any payments from bribes that a former oil trader at Gunvor Group pleaded guilty to last week.

The Swiss Federal Criminal Court last week handed an ex-Gunvor trader an 18-month suspended jail sentence and fined him 33,000 Swiss Francs ($34,000) after he admitted to bribing public officials in the Congo and Ivory Coast. Denis Christel Sassou Nguesso, the president’s son, was among the officials who received payments, according to the court decision.

“It is a fable,” Denis Christel, 43, said in a phone interview from the Congolese capital, Brazzaville. “I don’t know why my name or that of my family must always appears in such cases.”

Corruption and mismanagement of Congo’s oil industry have contributed to a tripling in the central African nation’s debt since 2010 that’s forced the government to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund. The Washington-based agency has set improved governance as one of the criteria for any package to be considered.

Presidential Candidacy

Denis Christel was a director at Societe Nationale des Petroles du Congo, the state oil company, at the time that the bribes were paid by the ex-Gunvor trader in June 2010, according to the plea bargain.

“There was no case of corruption at the SNPC in connection with that company,” Denis Christel said. “If anyone has proof, let the person produce it.”

Ruled for two decades by Denis Sassou Nguesso and home to sub-Saharan Africa’s fourth-biggest oil reserves, Congo ranks among the world’s 20 most corrupt nations listed by anti-graft campaigners Transparency International.

Denis Christel has previously signaled he may try and succeed his 74-year-old father, who is facing growing opposition to his rule after the economy contracted for the past two years following a decline in crude prices. Elections are due in 2021, when Denis Christel said he plans to support his father’s candidacy.

“I am not a candidate in the presidential presidential election of 2021,” he said. “I have been working with others for a few months now to actualize our goal of helping” Denis Sassou Nguesso get reelected.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.