Teodorin Obiang, Equatorial Guinea’s vice president and son of its leader, denounced a French legal case against him Thursday as a fabricated vendetta designed to damage the country’s government.
The 47-year-old, known for his taste for fast cars, luxury homes and bespoke suits, is charged with plundering Equatorial Guinea’s coffers to fund a jetset lifestyle in France.
In his first comments since the prosecution opened on June 19, Obiang, who is being tried in absentia, rubbished the case, calling it a “farce without any legal basis”.
“It is a fabrication against the legal government of Equatorial Guinea and against Africa,” he said at a Pan-African Youth Forum in the Chadian capital N’Djamena.
Obiang is accused of using more than 100 million euros ($112 million) of state money — proceeds of corruption and embezzlement, prosecutors allege — to buy a six-storey mansion on Avenue Foch, one of Paris’s swankiest streets, as well as a collection of Italian supercars.
He denies the charges, says the money came from legitimate sources and has countered that the property purchase was not prohibited under French law in any case.
The charges, which include embezzlement of public funds, abuse of trust and corruption, carry penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 50 million euros.
In 2012, French authorities swooped on the Avenue Foch mansion, seizing it along with a fleet of luxury cars including two Bugatti Veyrons and a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
But in December, the ICJ — the UN’s top court — ordered France to “take all measures at its disposal” to ensure the mansion, which Equatorial Guinea calls a diplomatic mission, be treated the same as all other diplomatic locations under the Geneva Convention.
France disputes that claim.
The trial, scheduled to close July 6, is the first arising from an unprecedented investigation into the French assets of a trio of African leaders accused of leading a life of luxury abroad while their citizens live in poverty.
It sets a precedent for France which has long turned a blind eye to African dictators parking ill-gotten gains in Parisian real estate and luxury products.
On Tuesday the case attracted attention when former British mercenary Simon Mann said US billionaire George Soros had plotted to overthrow Obiang’s father, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
Mann was testifying on behalf of the younger Obiang.
A former British special forces officer who was educated at the elite Eton College, Mann led a 2004 coup plot to overthrow the elder Obiang but was arrested in Zimbabwe before and jailed.
In 2008, he was extradited to Equatorial Guinea, but released a year later after being pardoned by Obiang.