Paris, France, Jan 4 – A French court agreed Wednesday to adjourn the trial of the playboy son of Equatorial Guinea’s leader, giving him six more months to prepare his defence against charges he embezzled more than 100 million euros.
Teodorin Obiang, his country’s vice-president, is suspected of plundering his oil and timber-rich country to buy a mansion on one of Paris’ most exclusive avenues as well as a collection of supercars.
When the trial opened on Monday, lawyers for the 47-year-old son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema argued that they had had too little time to call witnesses and prepare their defence.
Judges agreed and said the trial would now resume on June 19.
The case is the first arising from an unprecedented investigation into the French assets of a trio of African leaders accused of leading a life of luxury abroad while their citizens live in poverty.
Obiang had attempted to prevent the case coming to court and claims he is innocent. He says the money came from legitimate sources, not bribes or embezzlement as prosecutors allege.
The prosecution and anti-corruption group Transparency International, one of the plaintiffs in the case, called the defence’s request for an adjournment a “delaying” tactic.
Assets belonging to Teodorin Obiang have been seized in several countries. His house on Paris’ exclusive Avenue Foch, which boasts a cinema, spa, hair salon and taps covered in gold leaf, is estimated to be worth around 107 million euros ($112 million).
When French judicial officials first launched raids in Paris in 2011, they hauled away Bugattis, Ferraris, Rolls Royce and other cars.
The case sets a precedent for France which has long turned a blind eye to African dictators pouring their ill-gotten gains into Parisian real estate and luxury products.
– Californian villa –
It came about after nearly a decade of lobbying by Transparency International and another group, Sherpa.
“In the beginning, there was simply no political will in France to listen to us,” William Bourdon, a lawyer for Sherpa, wrote in September.
Equatorial Guinea, Africa’s only Spanish-speaking nation, is the continent’s third-biggest oil producer but more than half of its population live below the poverty line.
It is regularly criticised by human rights groups for its repressive laws, corruption, as well as unlawful killings and torture by its security forces.
Obiang is not expected to attend the trial or serve a jail sentence even if he is convicted of the charge of laundering funds obtained from corruption.
US officials said he had “shamelessly” looted his country in 2014 and forced him to forfeit property including a villa in Malibu, California, and some of his collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia.
In November, Swiss prosecutors said they had also opened a money laundering probe targeting Obiang and seized 11 luxury cars in Geneva, including a Bugatti Veyron worth around two million euros.