Senegalese President Rips Business Insider, Denies Corruption Story

Business Insider’s exclusive on an alleged $200 million shake-down over a telecom licence continues to draw condemnation from Senegalese officials.  This time, Senegal’s president himself is denouncing the story.
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Shortly after publication and wide coverage of our reporting in the Senegalese media, the country’s Prime Minister slammed the story, and U.S. aid officials assured Senegal that the $540 million in development assistance U.S. taxpayers are giving the country would be unaffected. Government officials also threatened to sue Business Insider over the allegedly “fantastical accusations” we described in the story. [Scroll down for a bonus video]

Most recent to weigh in on the matter is Senegal’s president, Abdoulaye Wade (pictured here with his son, Karim). In an interview in French magazine Marianne published yesterday, Wade says the story is just one more unsubstantiated allegation of corruption by top Senegalese officials:

[Translated from French] I’m not saying there’s no corruption in the country, but these denunciations are often manipulations. Recently, an anglophone media outlet accused us of wanting to extort some $200 million from the American telecom company Millicom. In truth, from history, they won a licence for almost nothing. Having decided to open the market, we let them know that getting a new licence wouldn’t be free this time. We simply defended the interests of Senegal and the response was this article.

Missing from President Wade’s denial is a clear explanation of why Millicom’s 20-year licence, signed in 1998, was abruptly revoked (the murky legal history of the licence fight is currently in international litigation).

President Wade’s denunciation follows similar responses from the two officials central to the story: Wade’s son Karim, now a powerful Senegalese minister, and Thierno Ousmane Sy, a presidential counselor.  These two officials were said by Millicom International Cellular to have illegally demanded $200 million to keep its licence to operate in Senegal, according to a Millicom request for arbitration before a World Bank court.

Wade and Sy have said they were just trying to renegotiate a fair market price for a canceled licence on behalf of the people of Senegal. Wade noted that Millicom only paid $100,000 upfront in 1998 for a 20 year contract (there’s an ongoing revenue share), while other telecom contracts around the same time in comparable African countries were much higher (Wade cites Cameroon at $74 million, Kenya at $50 million and Algeria at $537 million, among others). 

Again, there was no clear explanation of why Millicom’s licence was revoked beyond saying the conditions under which it was obtained — during a different administration — were “unacceptable.”

Separately, Karim Wade, the president’s son, also accused Business Insider of unfairly attacking him and the institutions of Senegal without first speaking to him personally. 

We would have been happy to speak to Karim Wade for our original story — or any other government representative — but we did not receive a response to fax, email and phone requests for comment from the Senegal embassy.  In response to Wade’s subsequent comments, we sent a request for an interview to both Karim Wade’s ministry and the Senegalese Embassy in Washington. We received a fax from the Embassy confirming receipt of the request, but have not heard anything since.

Separately, the vice-president of the Senegalese Senate asked for parliamentary inquiry commission into the alleged corruption, but quickly withdrew the request, citing ongoing litigation between the government and Millicom. And there’s been a proposal for a nationally televised debate on “L’affaire Millicom” and other allegations of corruption between Karim Wade and a leader of the opposition Socialist party.

Want more background?  See
Business Insider’s original article on Senegal, Millicom and alleged corruption here and check out our 1-minute primer on Senegal >

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