Paris, 13 July 2012.
The judges release an international arrest warrant
Teodoro Nguema Obiang (TNO), son of the President of Equatorial Guinea and recently appointed “second vice president”, refused for the second time to appear before the investigating judges of the “Biens Mal Acquis” (“Illicit Enrichment”) case. He was summoned on July 11 for his preliminary examination – a legal procedural step that precedes a criminal indictment under French Law. The arrest warrant, that remained outstanding since the first summons in March, was issued right away.
SHERPA and Transparency International France (TI France) welcome this measure, which confirms once again the allegations they have been asserting for five years. The decision of the investigating magistrates to indict TNO does not come as a surprise, given the accumulation of incriminating evidence over the last months.
In September 2011, the French judges seized some fifteen luxury cars of his: Maserati, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce, Porsche, Bugatti, Bentley, Ferrari… Last February, three truckloads of luxury assets, such as antique furniture, works of art and cases of wine were seized in an unprecedented ten-day-search, as Assistant Attorney General Breuer, on American proceedings: « We are sending the message loud and clear: the United States will not be a hiding place for the ill-gotten riches of the world’s corrupt leaders. » suspected proceeds of corruption.
TNO’s lavish possessions are vastly out of proportion with his official income: according to the US Department of Justice, which initiated civil proceedings in order to confiscate his US-based assets, TNO has spent more than $300 million worldwide between 2000 and 2011, while his salary as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry is estimated at less than $100,000 per year.
Assistant Attorney General Breuer on American proceedings: « We are sending the message loud and clear: the United States will not be a hiding place for the ill-gotten riches of the world’s corrupt leaders. »
“The release of an international arrest warrant against a political leader in office is obviously a major step in the case; however, it is too soon to prejudge the outcome of the proceeding, so numerous are the obstacles…” declared Mr William Bourdon, President of SHERPA and TI France’s lawyer.
The very first barrier to overcome is the controversial claim to diplomatic immunity, particularly an immunity of convenience that TNO seeks to enjoy through UNESCO. Indeed, on the 13th of October 2011, the Equatoguinean government named TNO as deputy permanent delegate to UNESCO, just two weeks after the seizure of his luxury cars by French judicial authorities.
In addition to this timing, the fact that the appointment resolution stated clearly that President Obiang of the Republic Equatorial Guinea (TNO’s father) decided to make the appointment specifically “in response to the circumstances of Teodoro Obiang Mangue”, raises concerns about the possibly dubious motivations of such a nomination, namely to bypass criminal proceedings in France.
France, as Host State of UNESCO, has the power and the duty to oppose the nomination of « Teodorin » Obiang by refusing to grant him the special diplomatic visa to which corresponding privileges and immunities are attached, thus allowing the French proceedings to take their due course.
It is unacceptable that an international organisation such as UNESCO can be manipulated in order to disrupt the progress of a legally opened investigation in France.
SHERPA and TI France urgently call on the French Government to declare TNO persona non grata in accordance with article 9 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relationships. We call on concerned citizens of all countries to sign our online petition to support this approach.
Mr William Bourdon, President of SHERPA and legal counsel for TI France, will be holding a press briefing on Monday 16, 2012 at 6:00pm at his office. This meeting will be focused on the international arrest warrant as well as the controversial UNESCO-Obiang Prize for Research in the Life Sciences, due to be awarded on July 17.
- In France, judges can only (and have to) press charges “where there is sufficient reliable and consistent evidence that render his or her participation likely either as author or as accomplice, in the commission of an offence”.
- In October, 2011, American authorities announced they had launched proceedings to recover more than 70 million dollars of assets. See the press release of the US Department of Justice, dated October 25, 2011.