Written by 17 h 31 min Corruption and embezzlement, Strategic litigation

Ill-gotten Gains – Equatorial Guinea

Country: Equatorial-Guinea, France

Political elite targeted: Teodorin Obiang and relatives of the President of Equatorial-Guinea


An overview of the facts and proceedings… 

Teodoro Obiang Nguema, president of Equatorial Guinea since 1979, quickly establishes an authoritarian regime allowing his family to collect money from oil revenues and other natural resources.  It is estimated that his clan’s wealth has increased by 500 to 700 million dollars while Equatorial Guinea is number 136 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index.  Several members of the Obiang family, including the president’s eldest son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang, invest in real estate and luxury cars outside Equatorial Guinea, notably in France.

The Litigation…

In 2007, Sherpa and its partners file a complaint against five foreign heads of state, which ended in the case being closed several months later.  In 2008, with Sherpa’s legal support, Transparency International France and a Gabonese national file a complaint and a civil action before the investigating judge in Paris implicating Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Denis Sassou Nguesso, president of Congo Republic, Omar Bongo, president of Gabon, and other members of their entourage.


Teodorin Nguema Obiang, son of the president of Equatorial Guinea ©AFP | Jerome Leroy

This complaint cites several offenses linked in particular to the misappropriation of public funds, corruption, and money laundering.  Despite attempts by the Public Prosecutor in 2009 to have the complaint and civil suit filed by Transparency International France declared inadmissible, the Superior Court of Appeals declares the complaint lodged against Denis Sassou Nguesso, Omar Bongo, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, along with several members of their entourage, admissible in November 2010.

In 2011, a search of the residences at Avenue Foch and Avenue Marceau results in the seizure of luxury vehicles valued at more than 40 million euros.  In January 2012, the Public Prosecutor agrees to expand the jurisdiction of the investigating judges to include charges of money laundering and receipt of stolen goods.

The international arrest warrant is deemed valid.

In May 2012, Teodorin Nguema Obiang is appointed vice president of Equatorial Guinea, most likely in the hopes of securing legal immunity.  He is suspected of misappropriation of public funds, money laundering, abuse of public assets, and breach of trust, and after he refuses to appear before the court for a second time, an international arrest warrant is issued against him in July 2012.

Accustomed to bringing defamation proceedings against NGOs and journalists covering this case since 2007, President Obiang frequently uses the so-called SLAPP method to block actions intended to further the investigation.

Despite these actions, his applications for the proceedings to be declared null and void are numerous. However, significant judicial progress was made on July 13, 2013, when the Paris Court of Appeals issued a decision finding the application for annulment of the international arrest warrant against Teodoro Obiang Nguema inadmissible.  Following this decision, Teodoro Obiang Nguema announces his appeal on June 17, 2013.

Legal basis … 

The Ill-gotten Gains case aims to fight against the impunity of the heads of states, corruption and the embezzlement of public funds. Countries such as Equatorial Guinea or Gabon are regular victims of this type of abuse. The association has faced difficulties related to the legal immunity of heads of state in power.

This case of presumed embezzlement, corruption, and money laundering in Equatorial Guinea raises the question of the standing of French associations for the fight against corruption. The admissibility of the complaint with civil party petition by Sherpa has thus been raised.


What Sherpa’s work has enabled … 

Sherpa has initiated proceedings that are unprecedented in the world by targeting foreign dignitaries in power; the objective being to enable the recovery and repatriation of stolen assets to victim populations. Sherpa has also contributed to the launch of an international civil society movement on the recovery of assets and is considering the possible actions to enable restitution to victims.


Chronology of proceedings… 

May 2007 and July 2008 – Sherpa and its partners filed a complaint with the office of the Prosecutor of Paris.

December 2008 – Complaint with civil party petition filed by Transparency International France with the support of Sherpa.

October 2009 – Judgment of the Court of Appeal declaring the complaint with civil party petition to be

November 2010 – The Court of Cassation stated that Transparency International France has standing in
the case.

During 2011 – A search at the residences in Avenue Foch and Avenue Marceau enabled the seizure of
luxury vehicles for a value of over EUR 40 million.

March 2014 – Teodorín Obiang was charged with money laundering. September 2015: Closure of the inquiry.

December 15, 2015 – Judgment of the Court of Cassation rejecting the immunity of Obiang

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