28 February 2018

Equatorial Guinea: French Govt, Obiang at Loggerheads Over Corruption Charges

Photo: LePays
Téodore Obiang

Cape Town — Equatorial Guinea has taken the French government to the International Court of Justice, accusing it of violating the diplomatic immunity of Vice President Teodorin Obiang, son of Teodoro Obiang - long-time leader of the oil-rich central African country. Teodorin was found guilty by a French court of embezzlement, money laundering, corruption and breach of trust.

The suit was filed by anti-corruption NGOs Transparency International and Serpa against the leaders of Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, accusing them of corruption, abuse of trust, and pilfering of their respective countries' coffers to their own benefit.

A 3-year suspended sentence and an equally suspended fine of $35 million was handed down to Obiang by the court. Pursuant to this judgement his assets and properties in  France were been seized. This includes a 101-room, $123-million mansion near the Champs-Elysees - the Equatorial Guinea government says this is a diplomatic building. The mansion has a hammam steam bath, disco, gym, hairdressing studio, gold-plated taps and hundreds of artworks, according to The Guardian. Obiang was accused of spending more than 1,000 times his official annual salary on the six-storey mansion on Avenue Foch, one of Paris's most exclusive streets. The house was decorated with more than €40m worth of furniture, including a €1.6m Louis XV desk, a Rodin sculpture and a dozen Fabergé eggs.

He also owned two Bugatti Veyrons, the most expensive and fastest street car in the world, costing about €1m each and capable of reaching 250mph. They were part of a luxury fleet that filled the garages around the cobbled courtyard of his mansion.

During the investigation, French police needed trucks to tow away 11 luxury cars worth around €5m, including a Porsche Carrera, an Aston Martin and a Mercedes Maybach.  More trucks were used to clear other assets, including bottles of wine worth thousands of euros each.

Equatorial Guinea, however, contends that not only was the Vienna Convention conferring diplomatic immunity on Obiang broken, but French officials also failed to uphold the diplomatic status of a building it maintains is Malabo's embassy in Paris.

Paris has, on the other hand, challenged the ICJ's jurisdiction in the case, citing the UN's Convention against Transnational Organised Crime. The newspaper also reveals that In 2016, the UN judges in The Hague urged France to ensure the protection of the diplomatic mission in Paris, but sidestepped Equatorial Guinea's request for Obiang's trial to be halted.

Relations between the two countries have further deteriorated after Equatorial Guinea's foreign minister, Agapito Mba Mokuy, said an attempted coup in December had probably been plotted in France, although he said the French authorities had "nothing to do with it".

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