The 66-year-old head of the Bolloré Group was taken into custody in the Paris suburb of Nanterre for questioning about how the group obtained contracts to run Lomé port in Togo and Conakry port in Guinea, the sources said on condition of anonymity.
The news that the magnate was being questioned caused Bolloré stocks to tumble over 8 percent in Paris trading.
The group, which has interests in construction, logistics, media, advertising and shipping, said it “formally denied” any wrongdoing in its African operations.
Its director general, Gilles Alix, and the manager of the international division of its communications subsidiary Havas, Jean-Philippe Dorent, were also taken into custody, a judicial source added.
Investigators are probing allegations that the tentacular group corrupted public officials to clinch the Lomé port deal in 2010 as well as the Conakry deal in 2011.
The group’s African logistics arm has several port and rail concessions in Africa.
Investigators from France’s financial crimes unit are specifically looking at communications work done by Dorent for Guinean President Alpha Condé and Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé.
In 2016, police searched the Bolloré Group’s headquarters in the Paris suburb of Puteaux.
The investigation stems from a probe into the connections of Francis Perez, the president of the Pefaco group, which operates hotels and casinos in Africa.
Perez has been linked to Dorent, who was in charge of Condé’s 2010 election campaign.
Battling over ports
Months after he became his country’s first freely elected president Condé summarily terminated the contract of Conakry port’s operator a subsidiary of French shipping company NCT Necotrans and gave it to rival Bolloré.
A French court in 2013 ordered the Bolloré Group to pay Necotrans 2 million euros ($2.4 million) in compensation for its lost investment in the port but cleared it of having a hand in the president’s decision.
Dorent also worked on the communications strategy of Gnassingbé, who succeeded his father Gnassingbé Eyadema upon his death in 2005.
After Gnassingbé’s re-election to a second term in 2010, the Bolloré Group won the 35-year Lomé port contract a decision also challenged by a rival.
Bolloré surprised many on Thursday by resigning as president of the board of Vivendi, a French media conglomerate, with his son Yannick, head of Havas, taking over.