Paris, France, Sep 7 – The son of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea’s veteran ruler will go on trial in France on charges of plundering his country to fund a jet-set lifestyle in Paris, judicial sources told AFP on Wednesday.
Teodorin Obiang, currently vice president, is accused of using the proceeds of corruption and embezzlement to fund an array of eye-popping purchases, from private jets and top properties to pop star Michael Jackson’s famous white glove.
The trial, whose date has not yet been set, will be the first arising from a series of landmark investigations in France into the alleged ill-gotten gains of a handful of African leaders.
And with Obiang unlikely to attend the proceedings, the trial “may be symbolic more than anything,” a source close to the case said.
Prosecutors will show Obiang, now 47, amassed French assets worth several tens of millions of euros between 2007 and 2011, “either directly or through front men or shell companies”, a source close to the investigation said.
Obiang was agriculture minister for his father Teodoro Obiang Nguema in the tiny central African nation at the time, earning a government salary of under $100,000 (89,000 euros) a year.
He will face charges of laundering the proceeds of corruption, embezzlement, misuse of public funds and breach of trust.
– Dire poverty despite oil –
Equatorial Guinea has become sub-Saharan Africa’s third-biggest oil producer in recent years, with oil revenues accounting for more than 70 percent of national income.
But the wealth has not trickled down. While per capita national income stands at over $10,000 for a population of less than a million, more than half the people live on less than two dollars a day.
In 2012, French authorities swooped on the Obiang family’s six-storey mansion on Avenue Foch — one of the most upmarket addresses in Paris — seizing it along with a fleet of luxury cars including two Bugatti Veyrons and a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
Police also took away van loads of valuables, including paintings by famous artists, a $4.2-million clock and wines worth thousands of euros a bottle.
The investigation was launched after Transparency International and Sherpa, an NGO that campaigns against economic crimes, filed a complaint against him.
Obiang, who was charged in 2014, has tried unsuccessfully ever since to have the proceedings quashed, and in June Equatorial Guinea lodged a complaint against France before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
US authorities have also pursued Obiang junior, accusing him of racking up more than $300 million through embezzlement, extortion and money laundering.
In October 2014, he was forced to turn over more than $30 million in ill-gotten gains — including a Malibu villa, a Ferrari and Michael Jackson memorabilia.
He managed however to hang onto the white glove Jackson wore during his “Bad” tour.
Other leaders under investigation in France include Republic of Congo’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, the late Omar Bongo of Gabon and Francois Bozize, former president of the Central African Republic.
Obiang’s father, who has ruled the former Spanish colony with an iron fist since 1979, is Africa’s longest-serving leader, extending his rule in April when he was re-elected with 93.7 percent of the vote.
He promoted his son to vice president in charge of defence and national security in June.