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Paris court gives Equatorial Guinea president's son suspended sentence in graft trial

Jerome Leroy, AFP file picture | Teodorin Obiang arrives at the Malabo stadium in Equatorial Guinea, on June 24, 2013, to celebrate his 41st birthday

A French court handed down a three-year suspended jail term on Friday to Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea's leader and who serves as vice president, after a landmark graft trial that lifted the lid on his playboy lifestyle.


The 48-year-old, who was tried in absentia, was also given a suspended fine of €30 million ($35 million) by the Paris judges who found him guilty of embezzlement, money laundering, corruption and abuse of trust.

The case, which was spearheaded by two anti-corruption groups, is the first of three targeting the families of African leaders for using ill-gotten gains to live it up in France.

Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea's president of 38 years, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, was accused of spending more than 1,000 times his official annual salary on a six-storey townhouse in a posh part of the French capital, a fleet of fast cars and artworks, among other assets.

'Obiang abused his powers', says Roberto Berardi, graft trial witness

Obiang has denied the charges. During his three-week trial in June and July, his lawyers accused France of "meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state".

Reporting from the Palais de Justice in Paris where the sentence was read out on Friday, FRANCE 24’s Claire Paccalin-Williams said the defence accused the French justice system “of trying to replace Equatorial Guinean judges with themselves”.

She said that prosecutors had described the inside of Obiang’s Paris estate during the trial.

“There was a mini-cinema, a spa and a small nightclub. According to France’s state prosecutor it’s a little bit strange to find these things inside an embassy.”

Prosecutors argued he could not have funded such lavish purchases without pilfering public money from his West African homeland.

>> Read more: ‘Playboy’ son of Equatorial Guinea leader faces corruption charges in Paris

The court did not follow prosecutors' recommendations on sentencing but did grant their request that his residence – which Equatorial Guinea protested was a diplomatic mission – and other assets be confiscated.

The ruling is a victory for the French chapter of Transparency International France and its sister NGO Sherpa, which brought the complaint against Obiang.

"Every year billions of euros are embezzled to fund the profligate lifestyle of a few corrupt leaders abroad, particularly in France," Transparency International said in a statement ahead of the ruling, adding that it aimed "to ensure that France is no longer a place to launder money".

The families of two other long-serving African leaders – late Gabonese leader Omar Bongo and the Republic of Congo's President Denis Sassou Nguesso – are also being investigated in France for corruption.

Fast cars and snazzy suits

Obiang was agriculture and forestry minister before being promoted by his father to vice president in 2012, putting him in pole position to succeed him as leader.

Many of his eye-popping purchases were made through Somagui Forestal, a forestry company that prosecutors called "an empty shell used solely to channel public money".

His tastes included sharp suits from Paris's top tailors, whom he paid with suitcases of cash.

Obiang said the money came from legitimate sources and that all his purchases were legal.

The affair first made headlines in 2011 when French police raided Obiang's mansion on the glitzy Avenue Foch in Paris, hiring trucks to haul away a fleet of Bugattis, Ferraris, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and other cars.

Investigators seized the property, which is valued at €107 million ($123 million), a year later.

Equatorial Guinea has long argued that the building is a diplomatic mission and therefore untouchable. Obiang's lawyers have referred the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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