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Son of Equatorial Guinea leader faces French trial on graft charges

Jérôme Leroy, AFP | Teodorin Nguema Obiang arrives for his birthday party at Malabo Cathedral in Equatorial Guinea on June 25, 2013.

Teodorin Obiang, the big-spending, hard-partying, car-crazy son of Equatorial Guinea’s longtime ruler, is due to face court on corruption charges four years after French police seized his multi-million-euro Paris mansion.

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The 47-year-old, who was appointed vice-president of the oil-rich Central African country earlier this year, will be tried by a Paris court on a spate of charges including corruption, money-laundering and embezzlement of public funds, sources close to the investigation told AFP news agency on Wednesday.

The court is yet to announce a date for the trial, which is expected to take place without the defendant attending.

The charges were brought by Transparency International, an anti-corruption campaign group that alleges several African leaders and their relatives spent state funds from their countries on lavish purchases in France.

Since 2010, French investigating magistrates have probed the source of money spent in France by Obiang, Congo-Brazzaville's President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon.

In July 2012, they ordered the seizure of Obiang’s vast Paris mansion in the chic 16th district. It featured gold-plated taps, a private gym, a spa and an in-house nightclub, and was reportedly worth more than 100 million euros.

From it, police removed vanloads of possessions including paintings by famous artists, a clock worth an estimated three million euros and wines worth thousands of euros a bottle. A fleet of luxury cars, including Ferraris and Bugattis, was also seized in Paris as part of the investigation.

Obiang’s lawyers have repeatedly tried to derail the investigation, arguing that their client should be granted diplomatic immunity.

Earlier this year, Equatorial Guinea filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague asking it to order an end to the French probe.

France is not the only country to have investigated Obiang. In October 2014, he agreed to surrender 26 million euros worth of assets in the US to avoid corruption charges there. His notorious American purchases included a €31 million Malibu house paid for in cash and nearly 1.6 million euros worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia.

Teodorin is widely expected to succeed his father Teodoro Obiang, who has ruled the oil-rich central African state with an iron grip since he led a bloody coup against his uncle in 1979.

Despite huge oil and gas resources, the Guinean people remain among Africa’s most needy, with more than half the population living beneath the poverty threshold.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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