France to UN Court: No Diplomatic Immunity for Obiang
France accused Equatorial Guinea on Monday of trying to obstruct its criminal proceedings against the African country’s vice president by dragging his case to the International Court of Justice and claiming France’s embezzlement charges violated laws on diplomatic immunity.
At a hearing that opened on Monday in The Hague, France challenged the claim that Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and the country’s vice president, even had diplomatic immunity.
The dispute erupted after France opened an investigation against Obiang in 2010 and accused him of embezzlement and of laundering tens of millions of dollars.
Authorities raided his 101-room US$ 200 million Paris mansion. The six-storey property had a gym, a hammam, gold-plated taps, a hairdressing studio, a disco with cinema screen and more than US$ 49 million worth of furniture which included a US $1.98 million Louis XV desk, a Rodin sculpture and a dozen Fabergé eggs.
The flamboyant second-in-command of the impoverished, yet oil-rich nation, wasfound guilty in absentia of abuse of trust, money-laundering and embezzlement and given a three-year suspended prison sentence last year.
Obiang was fined 30 million euros (US $34.89 million) after he was found to have spent more than 1,000 times his official annual salary to purchase his Paris mansion, vintage wines, works of art, and luxury cars including a Bugatti Veyron, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a Ferrari.
Equatorial Guinea claimed the mansion was part of its embassy and in 2016 sued France at the ICJ for violating the diplomatic immunity of its vice president and diplomatic mission premises.
French representatives told judges on Monday that the Paris mansion was only added to the list of diplomatic residences after the raid had taken place.
Alain Pellet, a French representative, told the court to disregard the “wholly unbelievable circumstances under which the apartment on Avenue Foch suddenly became a part of the embassy,” in comments reported by Reuters.
As for Obiang’s diplomatic immunity, Pellet said that “However many positions ... he holds, Mr. Obiang is no diplomat.”