Eavesdropped chats of Mali president deal major diplomatic blow to François Hollande

The conversations of two African heads of state have been eavesdropped by French police during a major investigation into alleged corruption by a French businessman. The transcripts of the phone-tapped conversations involving Mali's president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, known as IBK, and Gabon's Ali Bongo reveal a vast system of gifts and favours apparently provided by controversial Corsican businessman Michel Tomi, who has been dubbed the “godfather to the godfathers”. As far as the judges investigating the case are concerned, the phone taps reveal corruption. And for French president François Hollande the content of the transcripts involving IBK will come as a devastating and embarrassing diplomatic blow. For much of Hollande's African policy has been based on the symbolic success of his old socialist friend IBK, who was voted in as president of Mali just months after Paris sent in troops to end an Islamic insurgency there. IBK's election was supposed to usher in a fresh start for Mali and a new era of French diplomacy in Africa. That narrative now looks to be in ruins. Fabrice Arfi, Ellen Salvi, Lénaïg Bredoux and Thomas Cantaloube report.

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At 12.55pm on March 28th, 2014, the Corsican businessman dubbed “the godfather to the godfathers”, Michel Tomi, picked up his phone. At the other end of the line was an old associate, Pierre-Nonce Lanfranchi, known as 'Nono'. “Fuck, they're not letting go of you!” says a clearly irritated 'Nono', a councillor in the small village of Guitera-les-Bains in southern Corsica. On that day an article in Le Monde had revealed the existence of a major judicial investigation into Michel Tomi, who has twice been convicted in financial cases linked to the Corsican Mafia.