France’s highest appeal court, the Court of Cassation, has upheld the conviction of the Vice President of Equatorial Guinea Teodorin Obiang, as well as the ruling concerning the confiscation of his assets located in France. After 14 years of
proceedings, this final decision opens a new chapter: the restitution of
the confiscated stolen assets – amounting to approximately EUR 150 million – to the people of Equatorial Guinea.
"By confiscating ill-gotten assets and convicting their owners, French judiciary sends a clear message that France is no longer a haven for money embezzled by foreign leaders and their entourage," said Patrick Lefas, Chairman of Transparency International France.
For Franceline Lepany, Chairwoman of the NGO Sherpa, this was a historic decision. She said: "Step by step, historic decision after historic decision, we developed the law and contributed to end practices that were, until now, tolerated in France. We demonstrated that France has jurisdiction and can legitimately enforce against money laundering and prosecute foreign kleptocrats. Civil society organisations such as Sherpa and Transparency International France have achieved legal standing in corruption cases. For the first time in France, and probably worldwide, we obtained a final conviction against a foreign ruling high-level official for ill-gotten gains, and confiscation of all their assets."
"The EUR 150 million worth of assets permanently confiscated from Teodorin Obiang in France may not be much compared to the lavish lifestyle of the vice president of Equatorial Guinea. They, however, represent a significant gain for his 1.4 million fellow citizens, two-thirds of whom live on less than a dollar a day. This amount would be enough to vaccinate three times the entire population against COVID-19. Their return is highly anticipated by the population, as their needs are so great," said Tutu Alicante, an Equatorial Guinean lawyer in exile and President of EG Justice, who testified during Teodorin Obiang's trial.
To return confiscated stolen assets to the citizens of Equatorial Guinea is also an objective now achievable thanks to recent developments in France. Last week, a responsible asset repatriation mechanism was passed by the Parliament, which is a part of a broader programming bill on sustainable development. With the decision of the Court of Cassation, the assets confiscated from Teodorin Obiang will be the first to be returned under the new restitution mechanism.
"After 14 years of legal battle and advocacy, we now have the two conditions required for the restitution of confiscated stolen assets: a final confiscation decision and a legal mechanism providing sufficient guarantees and flexibility to ensure that these assets do not fall back into the channels of corruption, but are used to finance projects that will benefit the people. The Obiang case will provide an opportunity to immediately put into practice the mechanism that has just been created. This is the beginning of a new era," said Patrick Lefas.
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