Playboy son of African leader on trial in France

Two Ferrari cars (left) belonging to Obiang (above) being towed away by police at Geneva Airport, in Switzerland, on Nov 3.
Two Ferrari cars (above) belonging to Obiang being towed away by police at Geneva Airport, in Switzerland, on Nov 3.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Two Ferrari cars (left) belonging to Obiang (above) being towed away by police at Geneva Airport, in Switzerland, on Nov 3.
Two Ferrari cars belonging to Obiang (above) being towed away by police at Geneva Airport, in Switzerland, on Nov 3.PHOTOS: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Equatorial Guinea V-P accused of plundering his country's coffers to fund lavish French lifestyle

PARIS • The playboy son of Equatorial Guinea's leader, notorious for his extravagant taste in cars, homes and Michael Jackson memorabilia, was due to go on trial yesterday in Paris, charged with plundering the country's coffers to fund his jetset lifestyle in France.

Equatorial Guinea Vice-President Teodorin Obiang is accused of using state money to buy a mansion on one of the swankiest avenues in Paris as well as a collection of Italian supercars and other luxury items.

His lawyers earlier said they would call for the trial to be adjourned, saying they need more time to prepare his defence.

The trial is the first arising from an 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.

The 47-year-old shopaholic was not expected to attend the trial on charges of corruption, embezzlement, misuse of public funds and breach of trust.

US officials have already forced him to forfeit property bought with the proceeds of corruption, accusing him of "shamelessly" looting his country.

  • €107m
    The value of his house in Paris, which boasts a cinema, spa, hair salon and taps covered in gold leaf.

  • €110m
    Amount Teodorin Obiang is accused of plundering from his country from 2004 to 2011.

His house on Avenue Foch in Paris, which boasts a cinema, spa, hair salon and taps covered in gold leaf, is estimated to be worth around €107 million (S$162 million).

When French judicial officials first launched raids in Paris in 2011, they hired trucks to haul away his Bugattis, Ferraris, Rolls Royce and other cars.

The case sets a precedent for France, which has long turned a blind eye to African dictators who routinely park their ill-gotten gains in Parisian real estate and luxury products.

It came about after nearly a decade of lobbying by anti-corruption groups Sherpa and Transparency International. "In the beginning, there was simply no political will in France to listen to us," Mr William Bourdon, a lawyer for Sherpa, wrote in September.

French prosecutors allege that party-loving Obiang lined his pockets to the tune of nearly €110 million between 2004 and 2011, when he was agriculture minister for his father, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

In that portfolio, the bachelor held a powerful position that gave him control over the lucrative timber industry, which is Equatorial Guinea's main export after oil.

A so-called "revolutionary" tax imposed on wood sales was transferred to his personal accounts, prosecutors allege. He has "always said that he earned the money legally in his country", said one of his lawyers, Mr Emmanuel Marsigny.

Obiang fought unsuccessfully to prevent the trial.

In December, the International Court of Justice in The Hague rejected a request by Equatorial Guinea to suspend the case.

Born in 1969, Obiang was 10 when his father overthrew his bloodthirsty uncle, the dictator Francisco Macias Nguema.

Now Africa's longest-serving ruler, Mr Teodoro Obiang Nguema made his son vice-president in June just after being re-elected with his usual score of more than 90 per cent of votes cast.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 03, 2017, with the headline 'Playboy son of African leader on trial in France'. Print Edition | Subscribe