Millions of dollars in unpaid debts linked to private-jet flights taken during the closing years of Omar Bongo's presidency are threatening the Gabonese government's shares in TotalEnergies Gabon, reports Africa Intelligence.

The current government, which came to power following the 2023 Gabonese coup d'état which overthrew Bongo and which is led by interim President Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema, is facing legacy debts of around USD90 million stemming from unpaid invoices for trips by government officials, including Bongo's daughter Pascaline Bongo, to destinations such as Miami, Los Angeles, and European capitals between 2006 and 2010.

The debts were initially owed to Swiss business aviation charter broker TraVcon AG, which has since gone bankrupt. The company counted among its clients the Bongo family, one of Africa's wealthiest, who ruled Gabon from 1967. Omar Bongo ruled until his death in 2009 and was succeeded by his son, Ali Bongo Ondimba, who was overthrown in a military coup by Oligui Nguema on August 30, 2023.

In one case of the family's extravagance, reported by the newspaper Le Monde in 2019, Pascaline and friends took a USD632,930 roundtrip in August 2008 with a Gulfstream V from Los Angeles via Orlando to Nice on the French Riviera and on to Gabon's capital Libreville, returning to Los Angeles via Paris.

TraVcon initially brought charges against Gabon in 2016 before the cantonal court of St Gallen in Switzerland. Following the company's bankruptcy three years later, Whitewell Limited AG took over TraVcon's debt and the case against Gabon. In March 2022, the court ordered the Gabonese state to pay Whitewell USD4 million and EUR2.5 million euros (USD2.6 million) plus retrospective interest from 2009, according to Africa Intelligence.

A subsequent appeal by the Gabonese state, represented by St Gallen lawyer Fabian Teichmann, to the Swiss Federal Supreme Court was rejected. Gabon now faces the possibility of asset seizures.

According to the report, Whitewell has taken precautionary measures including seizing Gabon's dividends from TotalEnergies EP Gabon. This has resulted in the country being deprived of dividends in 2023 and potentially in 2024, amounting to around USD90 million. Whitewell aims to convert these precautionary seizures into definitive ones if Libreville fails to repay its debt, potentially leading to the sale of its shares in TotalEnergies EP Gabon.

Despite the growing debt and accruing interest, Gabon has not responded to Whitewell's requests for settlement discussions, claiming that the aviation bills are not the state's responsibility.

ch-aviation has contacted Gabon's lawyer, Fabian Teichman, for comment.