Equatorial Guinea president's free-spending son faces French trial; could be a first for a high-ranking African official

Campaign groups say essential to 'end the culture of immunity in Africa of the biggest kleptocrats who seek only personal gain'.

FRENCH prosecutors have called for the son of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea’s veteran ruler to be put on trial for embezzlement, corruption and stealing public funds, a judicial source told AFP on Thursday.

Teodorin Obiang, one of the country’s vice presidents, is accused of looting state coffers to fund his lavish tastes, including the purchase of pop star Michael Jackson’s famous white glove, private jets and sprawling properties in some of the world’s most expensive areas.

The source said a judge would decide whether to put him on trial.

If the go-ahead is given “it will be the first time in France, and even in Europe that such a high-ranking official from a country goes in the dock for ill-gotten wealth,” Transparency International and Sherpa, a French association fighting economic crimes, said in a joint statement.

Read: $80 billion, not $50 billion: loss of African funds even worse than thought - Mbeki

French prosecutors had earlier ordered the seizure of the Obiang family’s six-storey mansion on Avenue Foch—one of the poshest addresses in Paris—as well as several luxury cars.

They also took away van-loads of possessions including paintings by famous artists, a $4.2 million clock and wines worth thousands a bottle.

Following a suit filed by Transparency and Sherpa, a probe in November established that Obiang had acquired assets in France worth tens of millions of euros while serving as his country’s agriculture minister.

Sherpa’s lawyer William Bourdon said it was essential “to end the culture of immunity in Africa and elsewhere of the biggest kleptocrats who sacrifice the interests of their people for their personal gains.” 

The 46-year-old’s father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has ruled Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist since seizing power in a military coup in 1979.

The younger Obiang had tried unsuccessfully to quash legal proceedings in France invoking immunity as the country’s vice president in charge of defence and national security.

Human Rights Watch accuses the government of “serious abuses, including torture, arbitrary detention, and unfair trials”.

Obiang junior has also been pursued by US authorities, who accused him of racking up more than $300 million through embezzlement, extortion, and money laundering, while earning a government salary of less than $100,000 a year.

US prosecutors forced Obiang to turn over more than $30 million in ill-gotten gains—including a Malibu villa, a Ferrari and Michael Jackson memorabilia—in October 2014.

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