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(New York, March 21, 2014) – France’s indictment of the eldest son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea on money-laundering charges sends a strong message in the global fight against kleptocracy, Human Rights Watch said today. French courts issued the indictment against Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, known as Teodorín, who is a top official in his father’s government and considered a possible successor to his father, on March 18, 2014, RFI reported.

The US government is also pursuing a claim against Teodorín, seeking forfeiture of more than US$70 million in assets it says he purchased with laundered funds.

“France’s pursuit of cases like this sends a strong message that foreign governments can do more to ensure financial integrity of resource-rich countries,” said Lisa Misol, senior researcher on business and human rights at Human Rights Watch. “Too often, funds that rightly belong to the public are diverted for private gain without consequences.”

The French court’s indictment arises from a case that has become known as the “biens mal acquis” (ill-gotten gains) investigation. It was prompted by a legal complaint filed in 2009 by SHERPA, a human rights group, on behalf of Transparency International France against several African leaders for allegedly using public funds to buy luxury properties and goods in France. French authorities have seized and auctioned luxury goods purchased by Teodorín and issued a Europe-wide arrest warrant for him. French authorities lifted the arrest warrant this week after Teodorín met with them by video-conference, AP reported.

Equatorial Guinea is an oil-rich West African country with rampant high-level corruption and disproportionately high rates of poverty given the nation’s per capita wealth. Teodorín’s lavish global spending habits contrast sharply with the harsh daily realities endured by the majority of people in Equatorial Guinea. Most lack reliable access to even basic services like safe drinking water and electricity.

Teodorín has repeatedly denied allegations of corruption and money-laundering through his lawyer. President Obiang and his government also strongly defend Teodorín against the allegations. In addition, they contend that Teodorín has immunity because of the high-level posts granted by his father.

Obiang first named Teodorín the country’s ambassador to UNESCO, based in Paris, and asserted that the appointment granted him immunity in France. Later Obiang appointed Teodorín to the post of second vice president, a position not contemplated in the constitution, and to one of 15 senate seats the president personally selects under 2011 constitutional changes.

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