PARIS (AP) — France’s top court on Wednesday upheld the conviction of Equatorial Guinea’s vice president for money laundering and embezzling millions of dollars in public money.
The ill-gotten gains are now to be returned to the central African country’s population under a new French legal procedure that seeks to ensure the money doesn’t again fall into corrupt hands.
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s long-serving president, was originally convicted in 2017 by a Paris court. The court handed him a three-year suspended sentence, fined him 30 million euros and ordered property in France worth tens of millions of euros seized.
An appeals court upheld the conviction in 2020, and France’s Court of Cassation threw out Obiang’s final appeal this week, according to the anti-corruption groups that filed the original legal complaint against him 14 years ago.
Obiang claimed he has immunity from prosecution and didn’t appear for the French court proceedings. His lawyers challenged the jurisdiction of French courts in the case.
“With this decision, French justice confirms that France is no longer a land of welcome for money embezzled by foreign leaders and their entourage,” said Patrick Lefas, head of Transparency International France, an anti-corruption watchdog.
Obiang was accused of spending tens of millions of dollars in France with funds stemming from corruption, embezzlement and extortion in his country. He has led a lavish lifestyle involving luxury and sports cars, designer clothes, artworks of great value and high-end real estate.
Despite its oil and gas riches, Equatorial Guinea has a dramatic gap between its privileged ruling class and much of the population, which thrives mainly on subsistence farming. The former Spanish colony is run by Africa’s longest-serving president, Obiang’s father Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.