The trial of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, is being heard in France for allegedly siphoning off more than $225 million of public money for personal purposes.
“This trial is a strong signal to corrupt leaders around the world that they are no longer immune from prosecution anywhere. The impunity they enjoyed is getting weaker every day.” Marc-André Feffer, Chair of TI France.
Transparency International France and Association Sherpa, two civil society organisations, started a legal battle to get an answer to the question, how was it possible for Teodoro Obiang to live such a luxurious lifestyle in France – own a multi-million dollar car collection and a fancy apartment – on the salary of a government official. As many as three quarters of the population of Equatorial Guinea live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
“This is a milestone in the history of the anti-corruption movement. Civil society has taken legal action to question a powerful figure and present the evidence of his corruption. The trial will show the levels of scandalous enrichment in a country where more than 70 per cent of the people live in extreme poverty. The poor citizens of Equatorial Guinea, a country rich in minerals, have a voice to help them win justice in the face of corruption”, said José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.
On 19 June, the opening day of the trial, Obiang’s lawyers asked for the case to be dismissed, citing that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity, that there were procedural errors, and that a French court had no jurisdiction in the case. The judge, however, allowed proceedings to begin.
William Bourdon, the lawyer for the prosecution, described the vast wealth amassed by Obiang, who he likened to a “spoilt child” in his spending habits: the luxury apartment with 20 rooms, a Hamman bath, a discotheque, a cinema, and a hair salon. Testimony from former employees described the suitcases of cash that Obiang is suspected to have regularly brought into the flat, wardrobes full of designer clothes and the garage filled with prestige cars including a Rolls Royce, a Bentley and a Porsche.