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President's son fails to keep incriminating information from public

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 16 August 2007 ARTICLE 19 press release:

Attempt of Congo President's son to remove incriminating documents from the public eye fails

The London High Court on 15th August dismissed attempts by the Republic of Congo President's son, Denis Christel Sassou-Nquesso, to gain an injunction for the removal of a set of documents from the Global Witness website which displayed "secret personal profits".

"Lack of transparency in extractive industries in the Congo has created an ideal climate for corruption and poor governance. The implications for the populations and the most vulnerable communities have been disastrous," said Dr. Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19's Executive Director.

"The decision and the judgment constitute a clear victory for freedom of expression and the free flow of information. The judgment clearly states that public interest overrides and prevails over the right to privacy," Dr. Callamard continued.

The set of documents published on Global Witness website include the 2004 to 2006 credit card statements of Sassou-Nquesso, who is also the Director General of Cotrade, the public agency responsible for Congo oil sales. The documents also include company records and consultancy contracts between Sassou-Nquesso's company, Long Beach Ltd., and another company named Sphynx Bermuda Ltd. Sphynx Bermuda had previously been involved in another oil corruption scandal where Congolese officials were accused of using the company for "sham sales and purchases" of oil for personal profit.

Global Witness has stated that the documents, which were from an earlier court case in Hong Kong, reveal that Congolese officials, including Sassou-Nquesso, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on personal items: "The bills were paid by companies which appear to have received, via other shell companies, money related to Congo's oil sales."

The judgment confirms this analysis: "It is an obvious possible inference that (Sassou-Nquesso's) expenditure has been financed by secret personal profits made out of dealings in oil sold by Cotrade."

The judgment went on to insist on the clear public interest inherent in the case: "There is a clear and overwhelming case for refusing relief on the ground that there is an important public interest in the publication of the specified documents and the information derived from them. In my judgment, it is unlikely that the Claimants can establish that their rights under Article 8 or their right to privacy or any remaining confidentiality in the specified documents or the comment and allegations derived from them can override GW's Article 10 right and the public interest in publication."

The Republic of Congo suffers from high levels of poverty with 70 per cent of its population earning less than a dollar a day despite the significant reserves of oil in the country.

ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works around the world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. It takes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression.

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