CORRUPTION

France to prosecute son of Equatorial Guinea leader

Teodoro Obiang faces charges of stealing millions of euros of public money from former Spanish colony

Teodorín Obiang, second vice president of Equatorial Guinea.
Teodorín Obiang, second vice president of Equatorial Guinea.EL PAÍS VÍDEO

A French judicial investigation concludes that Obiang, who is second vice president of Equatorial Guinea, spent in France tens of millions of euros he had siphoned from Guinean companies and state coffers on property, art, antiques and luxury sports cars, which were confiscated by the authorities in September 2012.

The luxury lifestyle of the 48-year-old Obiang was described by his former butler to investigators in three words: “Alcohol, whores and drugs”

The trial of the boss, as Obiang is known in the tiny West African state where most of the 1.2 million population lives in poverty, despite its huge oil reserves, will likely take place in January, according to French judicial sources. If the trial goes ahead, it will be the first time an African leader has faced justice in Europe for corruption, thanks in large part to evidence collected by graft watchdog Transparency International.

Equatorial Guinea was granted independence from Spain in 1968. Teodoro Obiang has been in power since 1979, after ousting his own uncle in a coup. His regime is routinely criticized by international organizations for its gross violations of human rights and civil liberties.

The 36-page indictment details the luxury lifestyle the 48-year-old Obiang enjoyed in Paris, described by his former butler to investigators in three words: “Alcohol, whores and drugs.” The butler and other employees have testified to seeing suitcases stuffed with euros and dollars regularly brought in from Guinea.

Despite Equatorial Guinea’s vast oil wealth, most of the population lives in poverty

Obiang is reported to have racked up a €587,000 bill over a five-year period at the Crillon hotel, as well as spending €18.3 million in two days at Christie’s auction house, along with buying Cartier, Piaget and Vacheron watches for more than €700,000 and splashing out €250,000 on wine. Officials found more than 60 pairs of handmade and luxury brand shoes at his mansion on the exclusive Avenue Foch in Paris. Obiang paid €25 million for the 4,500-square meter property, bought in the name of five Swiss-based companies.

In 2015, Obiang cut a deal with US justice officials over money laundering charges that kept him out of jail.

After months of negotiations he eventually agreed to sell his $30 million Malibu mansion, part of his collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia, and to donate cash to a number of US charities working with communities in Equatorial Guinea.

After failing to reach a similar settlement with the French authorities, Obiang now faces the prospect of a very public trial in Europe.

French prosecutors initially issued an international detention order against Obiang, which they agreed to suspend after his lawyers said he would speak to them via a video link. His whereabouts are unknown.

The French indictment shows that the mansion on Avenue Foch, along with the fleet of more than 25 luxury cars now embargoed, were paid for with money transferred from Somagui Forestal, a company in Equatorial Guinea set up by Obiang when he was the country’s minister of agriculture. The indictment also accuses Obiang of stealing more than €110 million from Equatorial Guinea’s public treasury between 2004 and 2011.

Among the witnesses brought by the French authorities against Obiang are eight Spanish businessmen who have already detailed their experiences in Equatorial Guinea, which included blackmail and extortion. One of them, Germán Pedro Tomo, has now been assigned police protection after botched murder attempt.

French officials say that if Obiang refuses to attend his trial and is found guilty, which given the mountain of evidence against him is likely, they will issue a new international arrest warrant.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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