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26.07.2021 Guinea

E.Guinea closes UK embassy over sanctions against president's son

By Samuel OBIANG
Sanctions: Teodorin Obiang, in a 2012 file picture.  By ABDELHAK SENNA (AFP/File)
LISTEN JUL 26, 2021
Sanctions: Teodorin Obiang, in a 2012 file picture. By ABDELHAK SENNA (AFP/File)

Equatorial Guinea closed its embassy in London Monday, four days after Britain imposed sanctions against the jet-setting son of its veteran president over corruption allegations.

"We do not accept interference in our country's domestic affairs," Foreign Minister Simeon Oyono Esono told state broadcaster TVGE.

"The first decision that the government has taken is the total closure of the embassy," he said. The foreign ministry said the mission was closed as of Monday and added that the staff would return home immediately.

The sanctions were "breaching the principle of international law," the foreign minister said.

On Thursday, Britain applied sanctions on Teodorin Nguema Obiang, Equatorial Guinea's vice president and the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, saying he had siphoned off state assets into his own bank accounts.

The British Foreign Office said the younger Obiang had made corrupt contracting arrangements and solicited bribes to support his wildly extravagant lifestyle.

He spent $500 million (425 million euros) on mansions around the world, luxury cars and a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia including a $275,000 crystal-covered glove that the singer wore on his 1987-89 "Bad" tour, it alleged.

Equatorial Guinea.  By AFP (AFP) Equatorial Guinea. By AFP (AFP)

The only Spanish-speaking country in sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea is one of the most enclosed nations on the continent, and many of its people live in deep poverty despite oil wealth.

Its ruler Obiang, 79, is the world's longest-serving sitting president and is frequently accused by rights groups of abuses.

In 1979, he ousted his uncle Francisco Macias Nguema, who had ruled the country since independence from Spain in 1968, and had him shot by firing squad.

Heir-apparent

His son Teodorin, 53, is vice president with responsibility for defence and security and has long been considered his likely successor.

Teodorin Obiang is one of five foreigners who were targeted last Thursday in the second wave of a British crackdown on corruption.

The sanctions entail the freezing of assets and a bar on entry to the United Kingdom.

"It's a step in the right direction, which shows that corruption is not victimless crime," said Tutu Alicante, head of EG Justice, a group that campaigns for human rights in Equatorial Guinea.

Most of the country's 1.4 million citizens have no access to running water or decent education, said Alicante, who lives in exile.

The economy has been badly hit since a slump in oil prices in 2014 hit government revenue.

In its 2020 budget, Equatorial Guinea spent 95 billion CFA francs ($170 million / 140 million euros) on defence, compared to 59 billion francs on education.

Equatorial Guinea on Saturday condemned the sanctions as "unilateral and illegal".

In 2019, Switzerland auctioned off cars that had been seized from Teodorin Obiang, including a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 coupe and Aston Martin One-77 coupe.  By FABRICE COFFRINI (AFP) In 2019, Switzerland auctioned off cars that had been seized from Teodorin Obiang, including a Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 coupe and Aston Martin One-77 coupe. By FABRICE COFFRINI (AFP)

"The baseless sanctions imposed by the British government find their justification in manipulation, in lies... that certain non-governmental organisations are fomenting against the good image of Equatorial Guinea," it said.

The younger Obiang "has not made any investment in the United Kingdom", the government added.

The junior Obiang is already entangled in a dispute with France over a 107-million-euro mansion on Paris's swanky Avenue Foch that was seized along with a fleet of luxury cars in a probe into so-called "ill-gotten gains."

In February 2020, a French court handed him a three-year suspended sentence, a 30-million-euro fine and order the confiscation of his assets in France.

A final ruling by the Court of Cassation, the paramount tribunal in France's judicial system, is expected on Wednesday.

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