French court upholds guilty verdict on charges of fraud for vice president of Equatorial Guinea

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France’s highest appeals court on Wednesday upheld a guilty verdict against the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea for embezzlement, paving the way for the possible return of tens of millions of dollars to the country’s people.

Teodoro Obiang Mangue, also the vice president of the Gulf of Guinea, was given a three-year suspended prison sentence in absentia and a €30 million fine at the end of his trial in 2020. France was ordered to be confiscated during the investigation.

Transparency International, which was a party to the case, estimates that the seized property, including a mansion in the heart of the French capital, is worth around 150 million euros.

Obiang has always denied any allegation, arguing that French courts had no right to rule on his assets, but the Cour de Cassation dismissed his appeal.

The property at the center of the dispute is a luxury residence on Avenue Foch in Paris – a large, sweeping road near the Arc de Triomphe. It has 101 rooms, a gym, a hairdressing salon and a disco with cinema screen.

Now that there is no appeal in this case, the assets will be put up for sale under a new French law stipulating that the money should be returned to Equatorial Guinea instead of going to the French state treasury.

This can be done through local or international NGOs or the French development aid fund.

Obiang’s father, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has ruled Equatorial Guinea since he seized power in a coup d’état in 1979, 11 years after independence from Spain.

The exploitation of the country’s oil reserves in recent decades has greatly increased the size of the economy. However, according to figures from the World Bank, more than 76% of the population still lives in poverty.

Other cases of alleged misappropriation of funds by foreign officials are being lined up in France and may also lead to decisions to return money to the affected population.

A French court has found the exiled uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Rifaat al-Assad, guilty of acquiring millions of euros worth of French real estate using money funneled away from the Syrian state. The case is still pending. He has denied any wrongdoing.

(REUTERS)