French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The investigative, satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné reported that French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing had accepted a bribe in diamonds from the African military ruler Jean-Bédel Bokassa in 1973 while serving as minister of economy and finance of the French government. The scandal led to Giscard d’Estaing’s downfall.

Summary of Event

On October 10, 1979, the respected French satirical newspaper Le Canard enchaîné published an article accusing President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing of having improperly received diamonds from Jean-Bédel Bokassa, the military ruler of the Central African Republic (CAR), in 1973. To understand the significance of the scandal that developed (rivaling the impact of the Watergate scandal in the United States), one must first understand the relationships then existing between France and the CAR. [kw]Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe, French President (Oct. 10, 1979) [kw]Bribe, French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a (Oct. 10, 1979) Giscard d’Estaing, Valéry [p]Giscard d’Estaing, Valéry Bribery;Valéry Giscard d’Estaing[Giscard d’Estaing] Bokassa, Jean-Bédel Central African Republic Giscard d’Estaing, Valéry Bribery;Valéry Giscard d’Estaing[Giscard d’Estaing] Bokassa, Jean-Bédel [g]Europe;Oct. 10, 1979: French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe[01810] [g]Africa;Oct. 10, 1979: French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe[01810] [g]France;Oct. 10, 1979: French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe[01810] [g]Central African Republic;Oct. 10, 1979: French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe[01810] [c]Corruption;Oct. 10, 1979: French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe[01810] [c]Forgery;Oct. 10, 1979: French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe[01810] [c]Publishing and journalism;Oct. 10, 1979: French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe[01810] [c]Government;Oct. 10, 1979: French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe[01810] [c]International relations;Oct. 10, 1979: French President Giscard d’Estaing Is Accused of Taking a Bribe[01810] Delpey, Roger Angeli, Claude

The CAR is a former French colony that gained its independence on August 13, 1960. Located north of the Republic of the Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, east of Cameroon, south of Chad, and west of Sudan, this 240,324-square-mile country is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. From its independence to the first democratic elections of 1993, the country was ruled by a series of presidents who took power by force, often with the support of France. The first was Dacko, David David Dacko, who governed the country until his cousin, Bokassa, overthrew him on December 31, 1965. For the first few years of his rule, Bokassa was supported by many Western countries, particularly the United States, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, and France, all of which sought access to the CAR’s rich natural resources of gold, diamonds, uranium, copper, iron, manganese, cobalt, and nickel. The nation’s immense mineral wealth, combined with Bokassa’s imperial style of governing, created an environment in which corruption and bribery could flourish.

Giscard d’Estaing’s involvement in the scandal began when, as minister of economy and finance under President Georges Pompidou, he discovered the potential of the CAR as a vacation spot. In December, 1970, Giscard d’Estaing, an avid hunter, was invited to spend some time in the northern part of the CAR by his wife’s cousin, Henry de la Tour d’Auvergne, who owned a large estate there. Entranced by the experience, he returned in 1971 and again in 1973, when Bokassa invited him to visit him in the capital, Bangui. As he had done for many political guests, including U.S. diplomat Kissinger, Henry Henry Kissinger, Bokassa presented Giscard d’Estaing with two stars made of diamonds. Like most Western nations, France at the time had strict rules concerning gifts made to its public officials. The diamond stars that were given to him should have been registered with the French government, then sold for charity or sent to a museum. Unfortunately, Giscard d’Estaing failed to register the gift, later offering the unsatisfying, though possible, explanation that he had simply put them in a drawer and forgotten them.

The friendly relationship between the two politicians continued through the 1970’s. Giscard d’Estaing met with Bokassa in France, again receiving gifts of ivory and diamonds, and returned to vacation at the estate of his wife’s cousin in the CAR in 1976 and 1978. Around this time, Bokassa was remaking himself as Bokassa I, grandiose emperor of the Central African Empire, but his increasingly bizarre behavior did not produce a break with Giscard d’Estaing.

Finally, in 1979, civil unrest in Bangui was savagely repressed in a bloodbath that included the murder of more than one hundred schoolchildren, some of whom were further victimized when Bokassa reportedly consumed their flesh in a cannibal feast. Only after these outrages did Giscard d’Estaing’s government move to oust the dictator, organizing a September coup that took advantage of Bokassa’s absence on a trip to Libya to replace him with Dacko, the cousin whom Bokassa had overthrown in 1965.

About a month after the coup, on October 10, 1979, the French newspaper Le Canard enchaîné published the story “Pourquoi Giscard a organisé la casse des archives de Bokassa” (why Giscard organized the destruction of Bokassa’s archives), written by chief editor Claude Angeli. The article purported to show a copy of an order signed by Bokassa in 1973, directing the Comptoir National du Diamant (the organization producing diamonds in the CAR) to provide him with multiple diamonds for the stars to be presented to Giscard d’Estaing. If these diamonds were of jewelry quality, the two stars would have been worth millions of French francs—certainly enough to buy loyalty and too much to forget in a drawer. Of course, if the diamonds were of lower—industrial—grade, their value would have been far less.

The possibility of a major bribe led to a national media frenzy of speculation on the honesty of the French president. While the newspaper Le Monde virtually accused the president of dishonesty, the newspaper Le Point took a more moderate view, speculating that the value of the diamonds was low and that the signature on the order was forged.

Unfortunately, Giscard d’Estaing fed the fires of speculation and rumor by refusing to answer any questions about the diamonds, later asserting that he saw no point in defending his honor and claiming that anyone who knew him would never believe him capable of behaving in a dishonorable way. It was a gentleman’s response to a slur on his character, and it was, of course, totally ineffective in the real world of French politics. Finally, on November 27, 1979, he addressed the issue in a televised interview. Openly contemptuous of those who accused him, he claimed that Bokassa’s signature on the document was forged.

Following the president’s pronouncement, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (the French equivalent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation) investigated the source of the information published by Le Canard enchaîné. When it was determined that Roger Delpey, a journalist and writer, brought Bokassa’s order to the newspaper, Delpey was promptly incarcerated as a dealer in forged documents. However, the president’s actions did not convince everyone of his innocence in the matter. He was voted out of office in 1981 and replaced by François Mitterrand.

Impact

At the end of his presidency, Giscard d’Estaing had the gifts he had received during his tenure in office examined by experts prior to their legal disposition. Among the items evaluated were the two stars given to the president by Bokassa. The stars were judged to be of inferior quality and sold for a little more than 100,000 French francs. However, were they really Bokassa’s stars? Critics of the president believed that they had been altered, with the original high-quality diamonds replaced with lesser stones. His supporters continued to proclaim that the scandal was manufactured by Giscard d’Estaing’s political enemies, who forged the document to damage the president’s prospects for reelection.

History will probably never know whether or not Giscard d’Estaing used the diamonds for his own profit. However, his experience clearly delineated the emerging nature of modern politics, in which personal honesty and honor are no longer taken for granted and must be forever bolstered by meticulous record keeping and a scrupulous regard for appearances. Giscard d’Estaing, Valéry Bribery;Valéry Giscard d’Estaing[Giscard d’Estaing] Bokassa, Jean-Bédel

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Abadie, Frederic. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Paris: Editions Balland, 1997. This is an excellent resource that traces the life and political career of the French president. In French.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bell, David S. Presidential Power in Fifth Republic France. New York: Berg, 2000. Highlights the tenures of French presidents between 1958 and 2000, with a particular focus on the presidency of Giscard d’Estaing.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Loughlin, John. Subnational Government: The French Experience. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. This book offers an extensive history of the manner in which the French government functions. It gives an overview of the machinations of subnational government in France.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Titley, Brian. Dark Age: The Political Odyssey of Emperor Bokassa. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997. An excellent political biography of Bokassa that details the government of the dictatorial leader of the Central African Republic and, later, Central African Empire.

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