26 April 2013

Equatorial Guinea: Obiang Loses Libel Case Against French NGO

Photo: Nancy Palus/IRIN
Woman voting in Guinea (file photo).

A French court ruled on Thursday that an Ngo did not libel Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema when it accused him of salting away vast amounts of his country's wealth.

Obiang, whose family has come under the legal spotlight in France, had sued the French-based Catholic Committeee Against Hunger (CCFD) for a report that claimed he had amassed a fortune of 500-700 million dollars (383-536 million euros) by plundering Equatorial Guinea's income from oil.

"The Guinean dictator and 10 members of his family are accused of having laundered about 26.5 million dollars [23.3 million euros] in property deals via an account at Santander Bank in Madrid between 2000 and 2003," the report said.

Obiang's lawyers argued that this was tantamount to libel.

But an appeal court confirmed a lower court decision that the report's allegations were covered by the right to free speech.

The ruling was a message to the authorities in Equatorial Guinea, one of the report's authors, Jean Merckaert, told RFI, adding that, while the country's population live sin poverty, it's GDP per head of population is the highest in Africa.

The 2009 report attacked corruption in about 30 developing countries and criticised several heads of state but only Obiang took legal action.

The lower court ordered the Guinean president to pay 2,500 euros to each of the four CCFD members he had sued for abusive legal action but the appeal court scrapped that order.

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