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Jeopardizing Justice: President Obiang’s Brazen Attempt to Foil French Law

May 11, 2012

By Joseph Kraus, Ph.D.

Joseph Kraus, Ph.D. is the Policy Manager for Transparency and Accountability at the ONE Campaign.

flickr / Pablo Manriquez

What do you do when your eldest son, already well-known for his reckless spending and extravagant lifestyle, becomes the focus of a corruption investigation in France?

Well, if you’re the world’s longest-ruling leader, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, you brazenly attempt to thwart justice and the rule of law by appointing him to a position at UNESCO, a position that comes with a convenient perk: diplomatic immunity.

One doesn’t survive in power for 33 years without having a few tricks up the sleeve.

Over the past year, French authorities have become rather fond of President Obiang’s eldest son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue (commonly referred to as “Teodorín”). During that time, they have twice stopped by the six-story, $100 million mansion where he stays in Paris. In September 2011 they seized 11 of his luxury cars, valued at more than $5 million. On February 14, 2012 they revisited the mansion and stayed for ten days, eventually hauling away three truckloads of valuable artwork, furniture, and antiquities reportedly valued at more than 40 million Euros. In April 2012, a French prosecutor approved an international arrest warrant for Teodorín on charges of money-laundering. The case is part of a broader corruption investigation into the alleged ill-gotten gains of three African Heads-of-State, including President Obiang.

Just two weeks after the September raid and seizure, President Obiang appointed Teodorín as the country’s Permanent Deputy Delegate to UNESCO via a presidential decree that explicitly stated that the move was “In response to the circumstances of Teodoro Obiang Mangue.”  

Given the Obiang regime’s poor record on corruption, human rights abuses, and democracy, this disregard for the rule of law is, unfortunately, not unique in the annals of Equatoguinean history. The move is surprising, however, in its blatant disrespect for international law and the French judicial process.

There is no guarantee that President Obiang’s attempt to misuse UNESCO to shield his son from justice will actually succeed. The French Foreign Ministry must first issue a diplomatic visa to Teodorín before he can claim diplomatic immunity. A significant number of international civil society organizations are mounting a campaign to urge that body to deny the visa and allow the French corruption investigation to proceed unhindered. In addition to an open letter to the Foreign Ministry signed by 16 human rights and anti-corruption organizations, including a coalition that represents 314 groups, a petition has been launched that calls on the Foreign Ministry to repudiate President Obiang’s calculated effort to obstruct the rule of law and justice.

The French government should deny the visa and send a strong message to corrupt African leaders that impunity will not be tolerated.

Image: AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Pablo Manriquez

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Disclaimer: Unless specifically stated to be the views of the Financial Transparency Coalition, the opinions expressed on this blog are solely the opinions of the individual blogger and are not necessarily those of the Financial Transparency Coalition.

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