Fraud officers have searched two valuable Nice villas thought to belong to the family of Gabon’s late president Omar Bongo and suspected of being purchased using state funds.
Inspectors from Nice judicial police and Paris serious fraud unit were seen entering the Riviera properties, which have large swimming pools and vast grounds.
The raid was part of a landmark investigation known as the “ill-gotten gains” inquiry. Since 2010, two French judges have been examining the source of money spent in France by the family of Mr Bongo, who died in 2009, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, and Congo-Brazzaville’s President, Denis Sassou Nguesso.
The leaders and their families have denied amassing personal wealth in France through embezzlement, money laundering and misuse of public funds.
The charges were brought by Transparency International, an anti-corruption campaign group which alleges that the leaders and their relations spent state funds on lavish purchases in France.
They had already listed 39 properties belonging to Mr Bongo worth tens of millions of pounds but neither of the villas searched this week were on the list. Campaigners say there is little point seeking to return the assets to the Gabonese government because the country’s current president is Ali Bongo, Omar’s son.
Last February, police seized tens of millions of pounds worth of art, furniture and cars from a Paris residence belonging to Mr Obiang’s son.
The Obiang family’s 101-room pied-à-terre boasted a disco, cinema, steam baths, sauna, hair salon, gold and jewel-encrusted taps, and a pink marble dining room with coral pillars and 20-yard glass table, all overlooking the Arc de Triomphe.