Billionaire French tycoon Vincent Bollore was detained Tuesday near Paris on suspicion of corruption over his group's acquisition of rights to operate ports in West Africa, legal sources told AFP.
"The Bollore group formally denies that its subsidiary at the time SDV Afrique is guilty of any irregularities", said a statement later sent to AFP.
In Senegal, Bollore Transport & Logistics wins contracts on a regular basis, including an industrial project logistics contract on behalf of the Optimum Tracker customer, in charge of assembling the Sinthiou Mekhe solar power plant with a capacity of 29 MW, located in about 140 km from Dakar.
In 2016, Bollore's Africa business was thrust into the spotlight in a French TV documentary highlighting the miserable conditions of underage workers at a subcontractor of a Cameroonian palm oil company, in which the Bollore Group has a stake.
The probe related to the billing of its communications services in Guinea and Togo between 2009 and 2010, it said. It is run by Bollore's son Yannick.
According to a local media report, the cases being probed concern Guinea and Togo. Police now have up to 48 hours to investigate Bollore and decide whether he will stand trial.
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Groupe Bollore's Bollore Africa Logistics has a strong grip on port operations in West Africa, holding 16 container port concessions, as well as several rail concessions. A source close to Bollore said his departure as Vivendi chairman was not related to the investigation.
Three other managers were being held for questioning alongside Bollore, the judicial source said, naming them as Groupe Bollore chief executive Gilles Alix, head of the global division at advertising group Havas Jean-Philippe Dorent, and Francis Perez, the head of the Spain-based Pefaco company.
Havas was integrated into Vivendi past year.
Bollore has a net worth of $7.3 billion, according to Forbes.
The port concession obtained by Bollore in Guinea was in strict compliance with the laws in force.
Baratelli denounced the Togo allegations as an "irrelevance", saying the group won the concession nearly ten years before Havas is alleged to have engaged in malpractice there.