The International Court of Justice is holding hearings on demands by Equatorial Guinea that France halt a corruption case against Teodorin Obiang, the vice president of the West African country and son of its longtime president.
Obiang, 47, is accused of using public funds to pay for his lavish lifestyle. He has also faced embezzlement charges in the United States.
The son of Equatorial Guinea’s hardline president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, has long been known for his jet-set lifestyle and extravagant purchases, including jets and Michael Jackson memorabilia.
Among the assets French authorities seized four years ago as they pursued a corruption case against Obiang were luxury cars, famous paintings, cartons of wine and a six-story mansion in a chic neighborhood of Paris.
But on Monday, his lawyers argued before the International Court of Justice that French authorities, not Obiang, had violated the law.
Lawyer Maurice Kamto told the Hague-based court that Obiang, as vice president, and the Paris mansion, ostensibly part of Equatorial Guinea’s embassy, benefited from diplomatic immunity.
Lawyers for France will be making their arguments Tuesday.
The case against Obiang was initially spearheaded by anti-corruption NGOs in France, as part of broader charges against several African leaders. Last month, French judges ordered the seizure of properties belonging to the family of Republic of Congo’s president, Denis Sassou Nguesso.
Florent Geel, Africa director of the International Federation for Human Rights, hopes the legal proceedings send a message that France is no longer a haven for corrupt leaders.
“That means that we can not just say that the French government, for instance, supports the people and their claiming ... including for more democracy and the respect human rights, and the same time welcoming the perpetrators and even the people stealing [from] their own people. It is a question of credibility and rationality,” he said.
Equatorial Guinea is rich in oil and gas, but the majority of its citizens live in poverty.