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France – Lumumba vs. BGFI case:  Foreigners Domiciled in France Have the Same Rights as French Nationals, According to French Highest Court

Two Congolese whistleblowers who have found asylum in France are suing the Gabonese bank BGFI and its Congolese subsidiary for the damages they suffered after reporting wrongdoings 

Paris, July 12, 2022 – France’s highest Court’s decision confirms that any foreigner residing in France has the same rights as a French national and can therefore sue a foreigner before a French civil court, the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) said today.

Two Congolese whistleblowers, Jean-Jacques Lumumba and Guylain Luwere, had been intimidated and threatened by their employer, the Congolese subsidiary of BGFI, after denouncing embezzlement linked to the entourage of the former President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, to their superiors. The two bankers had been forced into exile in 2016-2017 for security reasons and had been granted asylum in France.

In 2019, with PPLAAF’s support, they sued the Gabonese bank and its Congolese subsidiary for the damages suffered. BGFI has consistently held that the French courts lacked jurisdiction, as the plaintiffs and defendants were foreigners.

With this unprecedented decision, the Court of Cassation confirms that any foreigner residing in France, including refugees, has the same rights as a French national,” said Henri Thulliez, director of PPLAAF. “A person residing in France can sue a foreigner for damages even if the damage occurred before they arrived in France.”

In its two rulings dated June 29, 2022, the Court of Cassation combined Articles 6 and 21 of EU Regulation No. 1215. 2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 12 2012 and Article 14 of the Civil Code to state that: “since neither the defendant’s domicile, nor the workplace, nor the place where the establishment that hired the employee is located, are situated in the territory of a member state, the conflict of jurisdictions is settled according to the provisions of national law […] among which is Article 14 of the Civil Code, and that foreigners domiciled in the Forum State can rely on it in the same way as nationals.”

In addition, the Court ordered BGFI Bank RDC and BGFI Holding to pay each of the whistleblowers the sum of 3,000 euros according to Article 700 of the Civil Procedure Code. Given the importance of these decisions, they were subject to a special and official publication.

Jean-Jacques Lumumba was a senior manager of the credit branch of BGFIBank DRC, where he had worked since 2012. Jean-Jacques Lumumba discovered the existence of several suspicious transactions of tens of millions of dollars between BGFIBank DRC, run by people close to former President Joseph Kabila, and companies that are also controlled by people close to the President. A few months later, Lumumba alerted his superiors internally. Threatened with a gun by the bank’s General Manager and fearing for his life, Lumumba left the country with his family and courageously revealed the bank’s actions.

Guylain Luwere had been working at BGFIBank DRC since 2015 as responsible for management control. In this position, he revealed to his hierarchy that the bank made expenses outside legal and internal procedures. He also warned the bank about the existence of large deposits belonging to companies linked to a network sanctioned by the US Treasury for financing terrorism. First threatened by various members of his hierarchy, he and his wife were then physically assaulted in the street. Following these threats, Guylain Luwere and his family left the DRC to live in exile in Europe.

I blew the whistle to honor the banking profession, for the good of my compatriots who no longer want to be taken hostage by the greed of their leaders,” said Jean-Jacques Lumumba. “But I am still paying the price today. It is time for BGFI to repair the damage it has caused us“.

Banque Gabonaise et Française Internationale (BGFI Holding Corporation SA) is a bank headquartered in Libreville, Gabon. It describes itself as “the leading bank in Central Africa.” It has subsidiaries in Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Equatorial Guinea, Benin, Senegal, DRC, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, and France.

In September 2010, BGFI Holding opened a subsidiary in the DRC, BGFIBank DRC. At the time of the events, the sister of former head of state Joseph Kabila was a shareholder in the Congolese subsidiary with 40% of the shares, with the rest held by BGFI Holding. BGFIBank DRC was headed by Francis Selemani Mtwale, President Kabila’s adoptive brother.

A data leak from BGFI led to the release of Congo Hold-up in November 2021.

Congo Hold-up is an international investigative project conducted by 19 media outlets and five NGOs based on more than 3.5 million bank documents. The published investigations expose how private interests have seized the DRC’s resources: natural resources, the Electoral Commission, the Central Bank, state-owned mining companies, and tax revenues. The banking, food, and construction sectors, as well as the country’s permanent mission to the United Nations, have also been plagued by misappropriation and corruption.

The revelations led to the opening of criminal investigations, notably in Belgiumand France.

The Congo Hold-up investigation confirmed the revelations made by Lumumba and Luwere.

The Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) is a non-governmental organization created in 2017. PPLAAF aims to defend whistleblowers, as well as conduct advocacy and strategic litigation on their behalf when their disclosures address the public interest of African citizens.

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Legal Notice - Copyright 2022

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Copyright 2022