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Gabon’s late president Omar Bongo, seen in a photograph from 2007, allegedly side-stepped anti-corruption laws by getting his daughter, a Canadian citizen, to deposit millions of dollars in three New York banks.FRANCISCO LEONG

In the final years before his death this summer, with French anti-corruption investigators nipping at his heels and ordering freezes on his myriad bank accounts, one of Africa's longest-reigning dictators had an ace up his sleeve: A daughter with a Canadian passport.

Omar Bongo, the former president of the oil-rich Western African nation of Gabon, used his daughter, a Canadian citizen, to funnel millions of dollars in cash to three different New York banks, United States Senate investigators have alleged in a report.

Yamilee Bongo-Astier, a former resident of Montreal and one of Mr. Bongo's 30 children, allegedly acted as a shepherd for her father's suspect fortunes, once meeting him before a 2007 speech at the United Nations General Assembly so that he could give her $1-million - neatly wrapped in plastic and organized into stacks of $100 bills - to place in her safety deposit box.

Officials with HSBC, where Ms. Bongo-Astier opened one of her first U.S. accounts on behalf of her father, told Senate investigators that "because Ms. Bongo-Astier was a Canadian citizen, her middle name did not suggest to the bank a tie to either president Omar Bongo or Gabon."

The congressional investigation, headed up by Michigan Senator Carl Levin, is a damning indictment of the many lawyers, bankers, real estate agents and lobbyists who have allegedly helped African leaders sidestep anti-corruption laws. As part of the probe, Mr. Levin is chairing a hearing Thursday, where he and other senators will question, among others, two Los Angeles lawyers who helped the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea purchase a multimillion-dollar Malibu mansion.

The late Mr. Bongo was the subject of numerous criminal investigations. The most prominent case was spearheaded by a French magistrate who publicly questioned how the leader of a country with an infant mortality rate higher than Bangladesh or Haiti could possibly afford multiple luxurious French properties.

But those probes did not raise red alerts about Ms. Bongo-Astier, and she was repeatedly able to skirt the intense scrutiny that comes with being labelled as a PEP, or "Politically Exposed Person," by a financial institution, in part, because of her nationality.

When she was occasionally asked by bankers to explain her unusually large cash deposits - she made about 16 such deposits, totalling about $2-million, over the past decade - she explained that she regularly purchased luxury cars, including two Cadillac Escalades, for her father and other emissaries from Gabon.

The case could have a deleterious effect on how U.S. financial institutions view Canadian passports, experts say.

"U.S. perceptions that we harbour or provide cover or legitimacy to rogues will impact ordinary Canadians doing banking in the U.S. and around the world. Our most important currency, our credibility, is being devalued," said Lincoln Caylor, a lawyer and white-collar crime expert with the firm Bennett Jones.

Ms. Bongo-Astier could not be reached for comment yesterday. Public records show that she once ran her own Montreal dance company, called Lea Mono Yaya Bongo Productions, before heading to New York to study at the Parsons School of Design, a fine-arts school.

Her mother, Marie-Yva Astier, also believed to be a Canadian, is Gabon's honorary consul to Haiti, and recently survived the devastating earthquake that rocked the tiny island nation.