French court ruling brings justice for people of Equatorial Guinea

By agency reporter
October 29, 2017

French courts have found Teodorin Obiang, the son of the dictator of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, guilty on charges of laundering the proceeds of corruption, embezzlement and misuse of public funds. It has been announced that all Obiang’s seized assets will be confiscated and he will receive a three year suspended prison sentence and a €30 million suspended fine. This is a landmark ruling as it is the first time ever that a high-level official has been called to account on corruption related charges whilst still in office.

It is the result of a decade-long campaign in France by civil society organisations, led by Transparency International-France and Sherpa, to bring Obiang to account for his profligate lifestyle funded by money that rightly belongs to the people of Equatorial Guinea. This case demonstrates how civil society can take the lead and paves the way for future investigations in prosecuting international large-scale corruption. 

Mark Hays, Team Leader, Anti-Money Laundering Campaign, Global Witness, commented, “Today’s historic verdict brings a measure of justice for the people of Equatorial Guinea, who have been robbed of hundreds of millions by Teodorin Obiang over many years. The next step is to ensure that these ill-gotten gains are restored to the victims of Obiang’s corrupt behaviour. 

“The relentless work of Transparency International France and Sherpa shows the world that corruption will not go unpunished. However, flaws in the international financial system, which made this corruption possible, remain. If governments are serious about stopping the corrupt from enjoying safe haven, they must address the role that anonymous companies, financial professionals and institutions play in serving them”. 

Equatorial Guinea is a resource-rich counry that is plagued by corruption, poverty, and repression. According to the World Bank’s latest figures, as many as three quarters of the population live below the poverty line whilst vast oil revenues fund the luxury lifestyles of the elite surrounding the President and his family. 

The Obiang regime has a long track record of looting money that belongs in Equatorial Guinea’s treasury. Global Witness investigations have previously revealed how Teodorin has enjoyed multi-million dollar spending sprees – a $35 million Malibu mansion, speedboats and a fleet of fast cars –  whilst earning a ministerial salary of between $4,000-5,000 a month. In 2011, Global Witness learned that he had commissioned plans to build a superyacht worth $380 million – almost three times more than his country’s annual health and education budgets combined. Corruption on this scale would be less attractive if countries such as France, the UK and the US were not safe havens. 

This historic ruling should serve as a warning to kleptocrats that France is no longer a safe haven for their corrupt cash, says Global Witness. Other cases under consideration by French judges include the Presidents of Gabon and the Republic of Congo. 

* Global Witness https://www.globalwitness.org/en-gb/

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