Vincent Bolloré, French Billionaire, Faces a Rare Corruption Inquiry

One of the matters involving Mr. Bolloré now under scrutiny is connected to Alpha Condé, a Guinean politician who is believed to have befriended Mr. Bolloré while he lived in political exile in Paris in the mid-2000s.

After Mr. Condé returned to Guinea to seek the presidency in 2010, an international Havas unit helped guide his campaign, and then allegedly underbilled him for its services. After Mr. Condé won, the Guinea government transferred an agreement to run the container-port terminal at Conakry, Guinea’s capital, to the Bolloré Group from a French rival.

The deal, first reported by the French newspaper Le Monde, added a strategic jewel to the Bolloré Group’s network of assets in West Africa, where it has a virtual stranglehold on much of the transporting of billions of euros worth of cargo. A map of the group’s holdings shows a web of Bolloré-run roads, railways, waterways, airports and ports that covers two-thirds of the continent and employs more than 25,000 people.

A similar pattern emerged in Togo, another former French colony. There, the same Havas unit was said to support, with below-market-rate services, the re-election of President Faure Gnassingbé in 2010.


Nicolas Sarkozy, left, the former French president, and Mr. Bolloré, a close friend, in 2008. Mr. Sarkozy is being investigated on suspicion of accepting illegal campaign contributions from the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Mr. Bolloré was accused of helping to facilitate the financing, but was not charged.

Benoit Tessier/Reuters

A few months before Mr. Gnassingbé, who has close ties to Mr. Bolloré, won a second term, his government awarded a contract for the container port at Lomé, the country’s capital, to the Bolloré Group.

In its statement on Tuesday, the Bolloré Group said it had originally gotten a contract to operate the port in 2001, long before Havas was doing business in Guinea. In 2013, Havas stopped doing political consulting for French and African figures after some of its clients, including the former International Monetary Fund director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, became ensnared in scandals.

The Bolloré Group has routinely sued French and African media outlets for defamation over reports on its business dealings on the continent. Journalists at Canal+, a French television channel owned by Vivendi, have accused Mr. Bolloré of using his influence to try to suppress an investigative report about a popular revolt against Mr. Gnassingbé in Togo. Two producers were fired after the report aired in December.

The suits have challenged the media outlets France Inter, France 2, Rue89 and Mediapart, among others. Those reports included investigative pieces alleging that workers at the company’s Socapalm and Safacam units, which operate palm oil plantations in Cameroon, were being exploited.

Since 2009, the Bolloré Group has brought more than 20 defamation suits involving over 40 reporters and nongovernmental organization activists in France, according to Sherpa, a French anticorruption organization that pursues humanitarian abuses by corporations. “Because of their systemic nature, we regard these legal actions as ‘gag suits,’” Sherpa said in a statement.

The Bolloré Group has said the suits were meant to combat what it described as biased reporting.

The judges will now decide whether Mr. Dorent and Mr. Alix should also be placed under formal investigation in France, the next step toward a possible trial. The case could still be dropped if the evidence is found lacking.

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In Journalist’s Murder, a Test for Malta, and the European Union

The search for her killers posed a test for Malta, its political parties and institutions, and for the European Union, of which the country is a member. It is a test the family claims the country is failing. Three men the police call career criminals were arrested in December and charged with planting and detonating the bomb. But questions about who was behind them and why they wanted Ms. Caruana Galizia dead remain unanswered.

“The brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia was aimed at instilling fear in everyone,” a European Parliament delegation to Malta said in a report released in January, “especially those involved in investigating and prosecuting cases of money laundering and corruption.”


Daphne Caruana Galizia in April 2016.

Jon Borg/Associated Press

After her death, 45 journalists from 18 news organizations agreed to work together to pursue leads from her work on corruption and international money-laundering networks, as well as look into the circumstances surrounding her death. Forbidden Stories, an investigative nonprofit in Paris devoted to completing the work of jailed and murdered journalists, coordinated the collaboration, in which The New York Times took part.

Today, the once-barren field where the burning wreck of Ms. Caruana Galizia’s car came to rest has sprouted green and lush, dotted with yellow and red spring wildflowers. The men charged with the killing — the brothers George and Alfred Degiorgio, and Vincent Muscat, no relation to the prime minister, who shares the surname — have pleaded not guilty but have otherwise refused to talk, and they remain in custody.

But the police say the three men were tipped off to their imminent arrest, according to evidence gathered in the investigation. Among the allegations the victim’s family passed to investigators is that Mr. Cardona, the economy minister, and two of the suspects in the killing were regulars at the same out-of-the-way bar.

In a written response, Mr. Cardona said that the bar, Ferdinand’s, “welcomes patrons from all walks of life, including other politicians.” He added, “I do not, however, recall having any discussions with any of these individuals, and have definitely never had any meetings with them.”


Malta’s economy minister, Christian Cardona. Ms. Caruana Galizia wrote an article about him reportedly visiting a brothel in Germany while traveling on official business. He denied the accusation and sued for libel.

Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

Mr. Cardona said that he had not been interviewed in connection with the case. The police have chosen to work their way up from the evidence at the crime scene rather than look for motives in the journalist’s reporting. A person with knowledge of the investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter confirmed that the police were not actively looking into whether the crime had been motivated by Ms. Caruana Galizia’s reporting on politicians. They still have a dozen investigators working on the case — half of them full time — while other authorities are combing financial and communications records to try to find links to the killers.

Ms. Caruana Galizia’s family says that the police are content to let the three suspects in custody take the fall without investigating deeper and potentially uncovering wrongdoing by the governing party. They fear that with time, the urgency to uncover why she was killed, and who was behind the attack, has already begun to recede. Six months after her death, neither the bomb maker nor the person or people who wanted her dead have been found.

“There is now a sense of impunity, a culture of impunity,” said Simon Busuttil, the former leader of the opposition Nationalist Party. “So everyone thinks they can get away with murder,” he added, “perhaps even literally.”

Underscoring the point, a Russian woman identified as one of Ms. Caruana Galizia’s sources has applied for political asylum in Greece, where she fled in fear for her life after the assassination, and she is fighting extradition.


A suspect being escorted out of a courthouse in Valletta, Malta, in December after being charged with the murder of Ms. Caruana Galizia. Two others were also charged.

Matthew Mirabelli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

In her years as a muckraking journalist, Ms. Caruana Galizia angered countless people on this island, not to mention an Iranian-born banker, drug-trafficking syndicates and the president of Azerbaijan. Ms. Caruana Galizia was no stranger to threats. In 1995, someone slit her dog’s throat and laid its body on her doorstep. In 2006, unidentified perpetrators stacked five large tires filled with bottles of gasoline against the back of her home and set them ablaze.

In an interview she gave to a researcher from the Council of Europe shortly before her death, Ms. Caruana Galizia, 53, described “a climate of fear” in Malta, a country where people were afraid of the consequences of speaking out.

“There have been periods where literally I would feel like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to get a stomach ulcer,’” she said. “That churning, churning nerves all the time. Because you’re living under it constantly, you know?”

Ms. Caruana Galizia dedicated herself to uncovering what she saw as a web of corruption in the country, on her blog, Running Commentary, where her reporting veered from tabloid to investigative to partisan and back again — sometimes in a single article. Hated by many but read by all, her post about Mr. Cardona had 547,146 page views; Malta has 460,000 people.


Prime Minister Joseph Muscat casting his vote in June. He called the elections after Ms. Caruana Galizia accused his wife of benefiting from a secret Panamanian shell company. He won a second term.

Darrin Zammit Lupi/Reuters

But she also reported on how Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s chief of staff and energy minister had used the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca to set up shell companies there shortly after the Labor Party came to power in 2013, which they have acknowledged was true. She said that a third company that had been set up belonged to Mr. Muscat’s wife, Michelle, which the couple vehemently denied. The Muscats demanded a formal inquiry to clear their name, and it is still underway.

Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, a former lawmaker who switched from the Nationalist Party to the Labor Party and who was a regular subject of Ms. Caruana Galizia’s blog, shared a view expressed by many here: that Ms. Caruana Galizia engaged in loosely sourced personal attacks rather than in sober, careful journalism.

“It’s not exactly what’s called a journalistic gem,” he said. “Most of it is mainly insults and denigrating any opponent to her clique.”

Mr. Orlando also pointed out that Labor, which won elections called after her disclosures about the offshore accounts, had nothing to gain from her death, as it would bring only renewed criticism and attention. “No one in the political sector of Malta had any interest in her death,” he said.


Investigators at the scene of the car bombing near Bidnija that killed Ms. Caruana Galizia in October, at age 53.

Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After the murder, foreign law-enforcement experts arrived to help with the investigation. A team from the Netherlands assisted with forensics at the crime scene. The F.B.I. sent a team to analyze cellphone data. Europol, the European Union law-enforcement agency, had people on the ground working with its Maltese counterparts out of a command center set up at Police Headquarters.

Significant evidence was gathered from cellphones used to coordinate the bombing, and from surveillance videos linking the three suspects to the killing. But little progress has been made in discovering who was behind them.

The inquiry has been hampered by the family’s distrust of the police, which means that investigators have not had the chance to examine her laptop, which might contain clues to who might have betrayed her, or had an interest in silencing her.

“Daphne would never have handed over her laptop,” Corinne Vella, Ms. Caruana Galizia’s sister, said in a statement on Monday. “She always said, ‘If anything happens, if the police ever come to the house, I will throw my laptop into a well,’ and she meant it.”

She added: “It was about protecting her sources. She knew that whatever information the police got hold of would go straight to the same people in government she was investigating.”

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Van Gogh Never Visited Japan, but He Saw It Everywhere

“It’s hard to imagine what his works would have looked like without this source of inspiration,” said Ms. Bakker, one of the exhibition’s four curators, referring to the influence of Japanese prints. “It really helped him to find the style that we all know,” she added. “He really chose that as the way to go.”


“The Bedroom,” one of the most famous items in the Van Gogh Museum’s collection, uses a color scheme of contrasting purples, blues and yellows that was popular in Japanese woodcut prints.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

The sprawling exhibition in Amsterdam — which is larger than a previous version that toured Tokyo, Sapporo and Kyoto — includes nearly all of the major van Gogh paintings that make either direct or indirect reference to Japanese art. These are hung near some 50 Japanese prints that played a role in the development of van Gogh’s distinctive style, as well as Japanese lacquerwork and painted scrolls.

Van Gogh first encountered Japanese prints in 1885 while he was working in the Belgian port city of Antwerp, whose docks he said were teeming with Japanese wares: They were “fantastic, singular, strange,” he wrote.

The Van Gogh Museum exhibition begins about a year later, when he moved into his brother’s apartment in Paris and discovered that the German art dealer Siegfried Bing — who sold Japanese artworks and decorative objects — had an attic full of Japanese woodcut prints at very reasonable prices.


“Courtesan (After Eisen),” is based on an image van Gogh traced from a cover of the magazine Paris Illustré.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

He immediately bought about 660 prints for just a few cents a piece. Ms. Bakker said that van Gogh originally held an exhibition trying to resell the prints, but it wasn’t successful, and instead he hung onto them, tacked them to the walls of his studio and used them for inspiration. About 500 survive, and are now part of the Van Gogh Museum’s permanent collection.

At first, van Gogh simply copied the works in both sketches and oil paintings: For example, in 1887 he traced in pencil and ink the cover of an issue of the magazine Paris Illustré devoted to Japan and also made a large-scale oil painting, “Courtesan (After Eisen),” based on the image.

The Japanese art he pinned to the walls of his studio also appears in the backgrounds of a number of his portraits, such as his “Portrait of Père Tanguy,” who sits in front of a wall of prints. (This is the only major painting with Japanese influences that the Van Gogh Museum could not get for the exhibition; it belongs to the Musée Rodin in Paris, and according to Ms. Bakker was too fragile to travel.)


Van Gogh’s “Bridge in the Rain (After Hiroshige)” is based on a print by Utagawa Hiroshige.

Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

By the time the artist moved to Arles a year later, he was fully in the thrall of Japan. On the train from Paris, he repeatedly checked out the window, he wrote to his friend Paul Gauguin, “to see ‘if it was like Japan yet’! Childish, isn’t it?’”

“The first year in Arles, everything is Japan,” said Bakker. “Later, after his breakdown, that changes, and he still refers to it but it’s less important. The nature of his admiration had changed. It has become integrated into his style but it’s no longer his artistic model.”

The impact was more subtle, more buried in his technique: For instance, he sometimes divided the canvas using diagonal lines, rather than using horizontal perspective planes, as was the norm in western painting, and he would streak his paintings with diagonal rain, as he had seen in Japanese prints.


“Woman Rocking the Cradle (Augustine Roulin),” makes direct reference to a Japanese woodcut print by Toyohara Kunichika. Van Gogh was inspired by this and other Japanese prints that employed flowers as a backdrop.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Japanese dream was over, perhaps, but the fascination with Japan was not. Tsukasa Kodera, a Japanese curator who worked on the exhibition, has studied van Gogh’s interest in his country for more than 30 years, and spent the last six researching the final phase of van Gogh’s life.

He discovered that when van Gogh moved to the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, outside of Paris, in 1890, he pursued friendships with two artists with direct ties to Japan: Louis-Jules Dumoulin, a Frenchman who had traveled to the country, painting and taking photographs there, and Edmund Walpole Brooke, an Australian-born artist who had lived in Yokohama in his youth.

“He didn’t try to make contact with other painters in Auvers — only these two,” said Mr. Kodera in a telephone interview. “His dream was broken but he still was interested in Japanese art,” he added.

Following van Gogh’s death in 1890, Japanese artists and art-lovers read van Gogh’s letters, which were translated into Japanese in 1915. They made pilgrimages to his grave in Auvers-sur-Oise in the 1920s and ’30s. The home of van Gogh’s friend Paul Gachet, who was also his doctor and sometime model, became a destination for these kindred souls; more than 140 Japanese names can be found in the guest books.

“He was interested in our culture and that says something to Japanese people,” said Mr. Kodera. Even though van Gogh’s art wasn’t widely reproduced and accessible in Japan until decades later, he added, “They had also Van Gogh visions, van Gogh dreams. Just as van Gogh imagined Japan as a country, they imagined him. It was a kind of two-way imaginary vision.”

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