French court fines Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president €30m for graft
Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema, owns a €107m mansion in Paris and a fleet of luxury vehicles
Paris — The vice-president and playboy son of Equatorial Guinea’s leader was handed a €30m fine by a Paris appeals court on Monday on top of a suspended jail term and the confiscation of his assets for embezzling public funds.
Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema, was found guilty in 2017 of having plundered his country’s state coffers. At the time, he was handed a three-year jail term as well as the €30m fine — both suspended.
Obiang challenged that penalty only to have the Paris appeals court return a heavier sentence on Monday by removing the suspended provision from the fine.
It confirmed his conviction on a range of laundering charges — relating to embezzling of public funds, misuse of corporate assets and breach of trust — and upheld the lower court’s order for his assets to be confiscated.
The president’s son, who is fond of luxury cars and Michael Jackson memorabilia, was not in court for the ruling, just as he had not attended his earlier trial.
Prosecutors estimate he laundered €150m in misappropriate funds in France.
He owns a six-storey, €107m mansion in an upscale part of Paris. When investigators first raided the home, they hired trucks to haul away a fleet of Bugattis, Ferraris, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and other cars as evidence.
The fate of his residence, which was also seized by French authorities, remains unclear after Monday’s ruling, as Obiang’s lawyers have lodged an appeal with the International Court of Justice to claim the property should be offered the same protections as other diplomatic buildings.
A hearing is scheduled to take place in The Hague next week.
Obiang has said his money came from legitimate sources.
His lawyers accused France during his trial of “meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state”. Relations between the two nations have been strained over the case.
“It is another step in a legal marathon,” said William Bourdon, a lawyer for Transparency International, one of the NGOs that initiated the case. “It is a strong and powerful signal to those who believe that a culture of impunity is the indispensable means to organise and maintain a system of predation of public resources in Africa or elsewhere.”
Obiang could still lodge a final challenge to the Cour de Cassation, France’s highest appeals court for criminal cases.
He was agriculture and forestry minister before being promoted by his father to vice-president, putting him in pole position to take over the leadership one day.
Equatorial Guinea is the continent’s third-biggest oil producer but more than half of its 1.2-million population live below the poverty line. It is regularly accused by human rights groups of corruption, repressive laws, extrajudicial killings and torture.
Obiang Nguema overthrew his uncle Francisco Macias Nguema in a bloody coup in August 1979 and became president a few months later. He has since seen off at least half a dozen assassination or coup attempts to become Africa’s longest-serving leader.
The latest of them, in December 2017, reportedly involved a group of men from Chad, Central African Republic and Sudan.
The French court case, initiated by anticorruption NGOs, is one of three involving families of African leaders which campaigners hope signals a new willingness of French authorities to tackle money laundering.
The families of late Gabonese leader Omar Bongo and the Republic of Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso are also under investigation for embezzlement. Paris has long been a favoured destination for the ill-gotten gains of wealthy figures linked to political leaders in Africa, particularly in France’s former colonies.
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