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17.02.2020 Europe

Equatorial Guinea accuses France of an ‘attack on its dignity’ over seized property

LISTEN FEB 17, 2020

Equatorial Guinea on Monday accused France of an "attack on its dignity" when it seized an upmarket Paris property in a 2012 raid, insisting the luxury home was protected under international law.

On the first day of hearings before the International Court of Justice, Malabo's lawyers insisted the six-storey mansion at 42 Avenue Foch was a diplomatic mission and not the home of Equatorial Guinea's vice president Teodorin Obiang.

Misuse of public funds?
Obiang, 51, the son of the central African nation's veteran leader, has been accused by the French justice system of embezzlement and the misuse of tens of millions of public funds.

"France wishes to continue... the attacks against the dignity of my country which started almost 10 years ago before the French courts," Malabo's ambassador Carmelo Nvono Nca told the court based in The Hague.

Paris "has submitted my country to treatment which is totally arbitrary, discriminatory and consequently contrary to international law," he said.

The French foreign ministry "merely repeated the mantra that the building falls under the private domain -- which is patently false," Malabo lawyer Michael Wood added.

The UN's highest court in June 2018 handed down a complicated legal ruling in which it partially threw out Malabo's case against Paris, triggered after a French court convicted Equatorial Guinea's vice president of embezzlement.

In the long-running corruption case, a Paris court tried Obiang in absentia and handed him a three-year suspended sentence for corruption in October 2017.

He was found to have embezzled 150 million euros  to fund his lavish lifestyle, and was also given a suspended fine of 30 million euros for money laundering, corruption and abuse (of power?).

Diplomatic immunity
Malabo had contended that under the Palermo Convention, Obiang had diplomatic immunity from prosecution.

But the ICJ's judges agreed with objections raised by France that the court lacked jurisdiction in that matter under the UN's convention against transnational organised crime.

However, the ICJ's judges agreed they could rule on whether Obiang's Paris mansion was a diplomatic mission.

French authorities in 2012 seized the property on one of the French capital's poshest streets, along with a fleet of luxury cars including two Bugatti Veyrons -- one of the world's most expensive and fastest supercars -- and a Rolls Royce Phantom.

Malabo contends the mansion, which boasts a cinema, spa and gold-leafed taps, acted as its embassy in Paris, and as such was off-limits to French raids under the Vienna Convention.

But France said the Avenue Foch address was never registered as the embassy of Equatorial Guinea, and was instead Obiang's private home.

( - with Wires)

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