Obiang Trial Update - 5 July 2017
On Monday 3 July, the second week of the trial against Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, began in Paris with the long-awaited testimonies from witnesses.
Daniel Lebègue, Honorary President of Transparency International France, kicked off the day by explaining to the court why Transparency International France started the process to bring Obiang to justice over 10 years ago: France should not allow the proceeds of corruption to be laundered within its borders. Stolen assets should be given back to their countries of origin.
Tutu Alicante, Executive Director of EG Justice, an organisation that works to promote human rights, the rule of law, transparency, and civic participation in Equatorial Guinea, and Delfin Mocache, a political refugee and journalist in Spain, emphasised in their testimonies that Equatorial Guinea was “a country held hostage by the Obiang family”. They called the government “one of the most repressive and corrupt in the world”.
“This trial is a great moment in the fight against international grand corruption. The aim of Transparency International France is to make sure that France will not be a haven for ill-gotten money any longer and that the stolen assets will be returned to the citizens of Equatorial Guinea,” said Daniel Lebègue, Honorary President of Transparency International France.
Following the testimonies of witnesses, the latter part of the week saw the court consider more evidence relating to the corruption charge at the heart of the trial: the origins of the funds used by Obiang in France. On Wednesday 28 June, the court heard how Obiang’s personal bank accounts were allegedly credited with €66 million (US$75 million) by foreign companies based in Equatorial Guinea. Obiang’s lawyers denied the existence of such transactions.
The week ended with Obiang’s lawyers’ attempt, once again, to have the case dismissed, arguing that Obiang is not subject to French jurisdiction. The court is expected to respond on Wednesday, 5 July.
Nowhere to hide: Obiang’s trial starts
Update, 26 June 2017: There were a few tense moments on 19 June, the opening day of the trial of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea. He is accused of corruption, in the first case of its kind brought by civil society in France.
Although he was not in the court, Obiang’s lawyers immediately tried to have the case dismissed.
First they said that it could not go ahead until there was a decision by the International Court of Justice. Then they claimed Obiang 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.
In the second week there will be more witness accounts and the court will go into greater detail about the laws in Equatorial Guinea regarding conflict of interest and whether or not the wealth of Obiang was legally acquired or, as the prosecution will argue, stolen from the citizens of Equatorial Guinea, the true victims and the ones who should be the ultimate beneficiaries in case of restitution.
We are hopeful after this week’s hearings, despite the numerous attempts to delay or dismiss the trial. Teodorin Obiang will eventually have to answer the embezzlement and misuse of public funds charges he is facing.”
In the first case in France brought by civil society in France Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, is on trial for corruption. It has taken a decade of arguments, a change to French law and a crowdfunding campaign to ensure the witnesses could travel to Paris.
“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.
“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.”
In the next two weeks the court will hear arguments that started with a simple 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.
Transparency International France and Association Sherpa, two civil society organisations, started a legal battle to get an answer to the question. Obiang is accused of siphoning off more than €200 million ($225 million) of public money for personal purposes. He is claiming immunity from prosecution. The trial is expected to last until early July.
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