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

Ill-gotten Gains – Equatorial Guinea

Teodorin Obiang, son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, also involved in the ill-gotten gains case– ©Afrik

Facts: President of Equatorial Guinea since 1979, Teodorin Obiang Nguema governs an authoritarian regime where corruption remains a major obstacle to social development.

Teodorin has been the subject of a number of international money-laundering investigations, and his flamboyant lifestyle has been widely cast as a symbol of brazen government corruption. The huge amount of money looted by members of Equatorial Guinea’s ruling elite contributes to the country’s severe underfunding of health and education.

After a judicial saga initiated by Sherpa, a Parisian court convicted the president of Equatorial Guinea’s son on October 27, 2017 in absentia of embezzling tens of millions of euro from his government and laundering the proceeds in France. It is one of three cases Sherpa brought against high-level government officials of different countries for allegedly laundering “ill-gotten gains” in France. It was the first of the three cases to reach a verdict and the first time a French court recognized non-governmental organizations’ standing to file a criminal corruption complaint.

 2 December 2008: With the legal support of Sherpa, a complaint with a claim for criminal indemnification was filed by Transparency France International and a Gabonese national, triggering the opening of a judicial investigation conducted by a judge. The investigation was intended to unveil alleged misdoing of 3 foreign heads of state, including Teodorin Obiang Nguema, and people in their entourage.

9 November 2010: The Superior Court of Appeals finally declares the complaint admissible.

March 2011: Alerts are issued by the Treatment of Information and Action against Illicit Financial Networks service [service de Traitement du Renseignement et Action contre les circuits Financiers clandestins] (TRACFIN), containing various communications connected to the Ill-gotten Gains case (BMA).

Between September and October 2011: luxury vehicles belonging to Teodorin Obiang Nguema are seized at his homes in Avenue Foch and Avenue Marceau.

March 2014: Teodorin Obiang was indicted for money laundering.

September 2015: Closure of the investigation.

15 December 2015: The Superior Court of Appeals ruling rejecting Obiang’s immunity.

27 October 2017: The Paris high court sentenced Teodorin Obiang to a three-year suspended prison sentence and a €30 million suspended fine for money laundering, misuse of corporate assets, misappropriation of public funds and corruption. The court ordered the confiscation of all movable and immovable property seized in Paris.

8 June 2018: On Thursday 7 June, Sherpa and the BMA Canada Coalition filed an additional complaint against some 20 leaders from seven African countries for laundering the proceeds of criminal offences, embezzlement of public funds, misuse of social assets, corruption and breach of trust.

10 February 2020: The Paris Court of Appeal rendered its decision in the appeal trial of Teodorin Obiang Jr, vice president of Equatorial Guinea. It confirmed the 3-year suspended prison sentence and the confiscation of its assets on French territory, worth an estimated 150 million euros. As for the fine of 30 million euros, imposed with a suspended sentence in the first instance, the appeal decision transformed it into a fine of 30 million euros.

December 2020: The International Court of Justice rejected Equatorial Guinea’s objection to the seizure of the building located at 42 Avenue Foch in Paris, considering that the building had never acquired the status of “premises of the mission” within the meaning of Article 1(i) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

The case is still ongoing as Teodorin Obiang Jr’s lawyers have appealed to the Supreme Court.

Today, Sherpa is focusing on how the assets resulting from corruption or embezzlement of public funds should be returned to the populations of the states of origin ensuring that this money does not fall back into the widespread corruption circles.

→ Read our position paper on the restitution of misappropriated assets

Our fight against economic crimes must enable victims to have effective access to justice. Indeed, our fight against illicit financial flows (corruption, money laundering, tax evasion) aims to establish the legal basis allowing the State and civil society to regain control of its natural resources and public decisions, so that the latter are directed towards the general interest.

Large-scale corruption practices – such as the cases of ill-gotten gains – witness the erosion of state resources to the detriment of populations. These situations are made possible by the evasion of financial flows and is regularly linked to serious human rights or environmental violations (war crimes, modern slavery, deforestation, pollution, etc.).  

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