The 48-year-old son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema is charged with using money plundered from his country’s state coffers to fund a jet-set lifestyle in France, where he bought a six-storey mansion in an ultra-posh part of Paris.
Prosecutors also asked a court in the capital to seize the mansion on Avenue Foch, in western Paris, which is valued at 107 million euros, and other assets worth 43 million euros.
The landmark trial of the notorious playboy fond of fast cars and Michael Jackson memorabilia began on 19 June in the defendant’s absence. Besides embezzlement, he is being charged with corruption, misuse of public funds and breach of trust.
Financial prosecutor Jean-Yves Lourgouilloux said Obiang, who was agriculture and forestry minister before his father made him second vice president in 2012, spent more than 1,000 times his annual official salary of some €70,000.
Obiang was promoted to full vice president last year.
Many of Obiang’s eye-popping purchases were allegedly made through Somagui Forestal, a forestry company that Lourgouilloux called “an empty shell used solely to channel public money.”
Obiang denies the charges
He has said the money came from legitimate sources and claimed the property purchase was not prohibited under French law in any case.
Late last month Obiang called the case a “farce without any legal basis” aimed at damaging the government of the impoverished but oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, in west Africa.
“It is a fabrication against the legal government of Equatorial Guinea and against Africa,” he said at a Pan-African Youth Forum in the Chadian capital N’Djamena.
Lourgouilloux dismissed the charge, saying: “I’m not here to try Equatorial Guinea, I’m here to try the defendant.”
Testifying on Obiang’s behalf, former British mercenary Simon Mann, who led a failed 2004 coup in Equatorial Guinea, last week accused US billionaire George Soros of plotting to overthrow Obiang’s father.
UN court backs Obiang
French judicial officials first launched raids in Paris in 2011, hiring trucks to haul away Obiang’s Bugattis, Ferraris, Rolls-Royce Phantom and other cars which were memorably photographed leaving the scene.
They seized the Avenue Foch mansion in 2012.
But in December 2016, the International Court of Justice — the United Nations (UN) top court — ordered France to “take all measures at its disposal” to ensure the property, which Equatorial Guinea calls a diplomatic mission, be treated the same as all other diplomatic locations under the Geneva Convention.
France disputes that claim, and Lourgouilloux called it a “manoeuvre to try to protect the property from French legal action.”
The defence is to make closing arguments on Thursday.