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10.02.2020 Europe

Equatorial Guinea VP given suspended sentence and fined 30 million euros

By Laura Angela Bagnetto - RFI
Michele Spatari / AFP
LISTEN FEB 10, 2020

Teodorin Obiang, the vice president of oil-rich, yet impoverished Equatorial Guinea was slapped with a 30 million euro fine and had a three-year suspended jail term upheld on Monday for fraudulently amassing wealth in France.

Obiang, 50, who is also the son of Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang, had appealed his original “ill-gotten gains” sentence following a trial three years ago. He received the same prison term but the Paris Criminal Court had suspended the 30-million-euro fine.

“Every time someone like Teodorin or anyone within the entourage of President Obiang can be brought to justice anywhere, it's a good day,” says Tutu Alicante, head of EG Justice, a US-based human rights group that champions justice for Equato-Guineans.

Obiang's conviction includes embezzling public funds, misuse of corporate property, and breach of trust. This second trial acquitted him of money laundering and corruption charges.

Paris' public prosecutor's office had called for a four year custodial sentence, the 30 million euro fine, and for all property seized to date remain confiscated by the state.

Allicante say Obiang will need to pay the fine, but alleges the money will come out of Equatorial Guinea's coffers.

“He will dab into the national treasury again and get those millions,” he claims.

Today's Paris Court of Appeals verdict also confirmed that all his property had been confiscated. One notable exception is the 101-room Avenue Foch mansion in Paris that is under the jurisdiction of the UN-backed International Court of Justice.

The ICJ is in the process of ruling whether the seizure of the mansion breached a diplomatic relations treaty. Obiang's lawyers have maintained that the Avenue Foch mansion is the location of the Equatorial Guinean embassy in Paris.

“We all know that the Equatorial Guinean embassy was in a separate building until this case started,” says Alicante, saying that they moved the plaque from that building to the Avenue Foch address “just to protect it, to ensure that the French authorities would not confiscate it.”

“This is the same type of abuse of power, abuse of the rule of law that they carry out inside the country, and they want to do it at an international level,” he adds.

A number of hearings will take place in The Hague next week on the Avenue Foch mansion issue.

Both Sherpa and Transparency International -- two groups that fight impunity for economic crimes -- filed the complaint against the president's son, giving a list of art works, luxury cars, and prime real estate in France, luxury items that way exceed how more than half of Equatorial Guineans live below the poverty line.

Coronavirus and Obiang public relations
Last week, President Obiang announced a $2 million donation to China to fight Coronavirus, the deadly disease that has killed nearly 1,000 people.

This is not the first time Equatorial Guinea and China have worked together – China signed a 1.8 billion-euro deal with the central African country for a series of infrastructure projects in 2015.

“This is part of Obiang's public relations at an international level: remember the fire in Notre Dame [cathedral in Paris]? He pledged three million euros,” says Alicante.

“This doesn't surprise us. We're talking about a country in which we still have thousands of people dying of malaria, tuberculosis is one of the big killers in Equatorial Guinea – all these problems that the government is not addressing,” he says.

Late last year the International Monetary Fund (IMF) gave the country a 257-million-euro loan, a move that human rights groups said the country did not merit due to corruption.

“We have serious issues in the country that still need to be addressed,” says Alicante.

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