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UN Court Rejects Immunity for Autocrat's Son

Money-Laundering Trial of Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President to Proceed

Equatorial Guinea’s government has tirelessly worked to stop the prosecution of the president’s eldest son, known as Teodorin Nguema, who is accused of laundering tens of millions of Euros in France that were allegedly stolen from his oil-rich country. But yesterday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the United Nation’s main court – dashed its last hope of stopping the trial, which is set for January 2.

The decade-long French case produced a mountain of evidence indicating Teodorin looted €110 million from the public treasury to finance his lavish lifestyle. That is about the same amount of money Equatorial Guinea spent on its entire public health system in 2008, according to the World Bank.

Teodorin Nguema, Equatorial Guinea's vice president and son of President Teodoro Obiang. © Getty Images

Between 2004 and 2007, Teodorin bought a mansion on the exclusive Avenue Foch, assembled a collection of 34 luxury cars and motorcycles, and spent millions more on luxury goods. A separate US investigation revealed that he also went on a US$110 million spending spree in the United States, buying a California mansion and a jet. At the time, Teodorin was Minister of Forestry, for which he earned a salary of under US$100,000.

Instead of investigating the possible theft of more than US$200 million in public funds, Equatorial Guinea has been doing everything in its power to stymy the French prosecution. It sued France in the ICJ, claiming the prosecution breached his immunity. A week later, the president promoted his son to vice president, apparently to bolster their immunity claim. The government also contended that it uses the Avenue Foch mansion as a diplomatic mission and it should, therefore, enjoy protection, but has yet to disprove the clear evidence that Teodorin used it as a private residence. His former butler described Teodorin’s lifestyle in France in three words: “alcohol, whores, and coke.”
The ICJ dismissed Equatorial Guinea’s claim that Teodorin should be protected from prosecution because he is a senior member of government. However, it provisionally ordered France treat the mansion with diplomatic protections until it comes to a final decision on whether it is in fact a mission.
The ruling sends a clear message to kleptocrats everywhere: whatever their power in their own countries, when other countries take notice and start to crack down on their shopping sprees, they cannot instrumentalize international courts to protect against corruption.

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