Beauty Queen: Gabon’s President Held Me Captive
Todd Pitman, AP, cnews.com, Feb. 4
DAKAR, Senegal (AP)--Peru is investigating claims that a beauty pageant contestant was lured to the West African nation of Gabon to become 67-year-old President Omar Bongo’s lover — and held for nearly two weeks when she refused.
A spokesman for Bongo, Vincent Mavoungou Bouyou, told The Associated Press on Wednesday by telephone from the capital, Libreville, he was unaware of the allegations.
Ivette Santa Maria, a 22-year-old Miss Peru America contestant, was invited to Gabon to be a hostess for the Miss Humanity pageant, the Peruvian Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Tuesday.
Press reports in Lima said organizers of the purported contest contacted Santa Maria via the Internet. The Peruvian Foreign Ministry identified the contest’s alleged organizers as being from Argentina and Switzerland.
Just hours after arriving Jan. 17 in Libreville with her boyfriend, Santa Maria was taken by a Bongo aide to the presidential palace, where Bongo tried to take her to his bedroom and seduce her, the Peruvian daily El Comercio said Wednesday. Other Peruvian press reports recounted similar stories, quoting Santa Maria’s parents.
El Comercio said Santa Maria fled the palace and spent 12 days confined to a Libreville hotel. She was able to leave Gabon only after Interpol and a French anti-prostitution humanitarian aid group intervened.
Santa Maria’s parents contacted Peru’s Foreign Affairs Ministry on Monday seeking help, the ministry said.
Peru’s U.N. ambassador in New York contacted his Gabonese counterpart “and expressed the Peruvian government’s serious concern over the events,” the statement said.
Santa Maria is to return to Peru late Wednesday, El Comercio said.
Bongo has kept a tight grip on power in this oil-rich former French colony since becoming president in 1967. He has faced similar allegations in the past.
In 1995, Italian fashion designer Francesco Smalto testified in Paris that he furnished Bongo with call girls, flying them regularly from France in 1992-1993.
At least two opposition newspapers were shut down and French newspapers were banned temporarily in Gabon after reporting on that alleged scandal.