After more than a decade of protracted litigation, a court in France has finally convicted the current vice-president of Equatorial Guinea Teodorin Obiang of corruption and money laundering.
In its ruling, the Parisian court handed Mr. Obiang, who is the eldest son of the current President of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, a three-year suspended jail term and a suspended fine of €30 million.
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The court further ordered for the seizure of his prized assets in France that are estimated to be worth more than €100 million.
Welcoming the verdict, the Human Rights Watch, which has been actively involved in the case since the start, urged the French government to repatriate the seized money and assets to Equatorial Guinea and ensure it goes to the important services for which it was initially intended.
“This verdict against Teodorin Obiang is further proof that rampant government corruption in Equatorial Guinea has robbed its people of their country’s oil wealth,” said the Human Rights Watch’s business and human rights researcher Sarah Saadoun.
The case is one of three suits filed by two French civil rights organizations, Transparency International France and Sherpa, against prominent government officials from different countries for allegedly stashing and laundering “ill-gotten money” in France.
It is the first time that a French court has convicted a top-government official from another country in a suit filed by a non-governmental organization.
Although it’s a suspended jail term and fine, meaning that they can only be effective if Mr. Obiang commits another crime in France, the Human Rights Watch says the verdict is a step in the right direction.
The judgment has also given the French government direct access and control over the valued assets seized from Mr. Obiang. Many want these assets to be auctioned and the proceeds returned back to Equatorial Guinea.
Emptying the Public Coffers
For many years, Mr. Obiang has been the subject of many corruption and money laundering inquiries, both at home and abroad, with his flashy lifestyle being regarded as as a symbol of the blatant corruption perpetrated by many African governments.
In 2011, the U.S. Justice Department filed a petition in court requesting the confiscation of Obiang’s $70 million worth of assets in the U.S. This followed a damning report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations exposing Obiang’s family secret bank accounts at Rigg Bank in Washington.
The case was later dismissed after Obiang agreed to forfeit some of the funds and other assets to the DoJ, including a fancy Malibu home, a Ferrari, and portions his Michael Jackson’s collection memorabilia.
Millions of the seized funds went to a charitable organization mandated to uplift the lives of people in Equatorial Guinea.
Mr. Obiang is also under investigation by Swiss authorities for money laundering. Last year, the government of Switzerland seized several of his luxurious vehicles and a yacht estimated to be worth $100 million.
Corruption in Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa’s poorest countries, has been a major impediment to the country’s economic development as the small revenue generated from nation’s oil deposits ends up in the pockets of a handful of greedy government officials and bureaucrats.
The Human Rights Watch accuses the country’s ruling elite of syphoning off the oil wealth by owning stakes in companies that are usually awarded vastly inflated public infrastructure contracts.
This happens on the back of a failing economy, with the health and education sectors bearing the greatest brunt.