French court convict Equatorial Guinea VP of embezzlement

A French court has sentenced Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president, Teodorin Obiang, to a 3-year suspended jail term for embezzling and laundering his country’s money to acquire luxury properties and other assets in France. Teodorin Obiang is the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang.

Teodorin Obiang was handed a suspended fine of $35 million. The court also ordered that his properties and assets in France be seized. This includes a 101-room, $123-million mansion near the Champs-Elysees, that Equatorial Guinea say is a diplomatic building.

This case is the first to be heard in connection with a lawsuit filed by anti-corruption NGOs Transparency International and Sherpha 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.

Lawyer William Bourdon of Sherpa hailed the French court’s decision, telling VOA’s French to Africa service, “What matters is the fact that the court made an extremely vigorous decision, sent out a message, first a message to kleptocrats, dignitaries who use their power to enrich themselves on one hand and impoverish their population on the other, a message also to the banking system.”

As to what to do with the seized assets, Mr. Bourdon rejected any suggestion that they be returned to Equatorial Guinea, saying: “The court pointed out that, as it stands, international and French laws do not allow property to be returned to a country like Equatorial Guinea, because that would reward offenders. We are not going to return to the Obiang family what they are accused of embezzling. So we must invent mechanisms that currently do not exist, to return the assets to the people.

Authorities in Equatorial Guinea indicated they are happy with outcome of the lawsuit in Paris. Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy told French to Africa, “Justice did its job. There was no conviction as such. I am happy. It will help a lot in improving the relationship between Equatorial Guinea and France. France has always been a privileged and important partner of Equatorial Guinea. Of course, this was a painful question, and according to the court’s decision and the information we have now, the Vice-President was not condemned.”

Concerning the 101-room mansion, Mokuy said the International Court of Justice has already resolved the issue. “The International Court of Justice has already ruled on this point by saying that it is the seat of our diplomacy, it is the Embassy of Equatorial Guinea, and this embassy has privileges, like all embassies, based on the Vienna Convention. So even if there was a decision today, it will be settled quickly.

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