The ruling ends more than a decade of litigation and cements France’s control over around 150 million euros ($ 177 million) in stolen assets, which must be returned to Equatorial Guinea for the benefit of those who are deprived of resources.
“Today is a huge victory in the struggle to prevent the kleptocrats from stealing public resources to pay for lavish lifestyles abroad, depriving the people of Equatorial Guinea of their basic social and economic rights”, said Sarah Saadoun, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “France now joins the United States and Switzerland in holding a total of $ 237 million in recovered assets which must be returned for the benefit of the Equatorial Guinean public. “
The court ruling ends a corruption case initiated in 2008 against Nguema Obiang by two French anti-corruption organizations, Transparency International-France and Sherpa. At the time, Nguema Obiang was Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, but he was appointed vice president in 2016 in a transparent effort to bolster his claim for diplomatic immunity.
The case, which follows a US Senate investigation into a US bank’s role in facilitating the corruption of the President of Equatorial Guinea and his family, revealed that Nguema Obiang used his position to loot the accounts. country and launder the money in France. He bought a 101-room mansion on the exclusive Avenue Foch in Paris, as well as a fleet of high-end cars, works of art, watches, designer clothes and fine wines through a business network.
The court decision makes France the third country to recover the assets of Nguema Obiang which must be returned for the benefit of Equatorial Guinea. On July 20, France passed a law requiring assets seized in corruption cases to be returned to the public from whom they were stolen.
In 2011, the US Department of Justice seized more than $ 70 million in assets from Nguema Obiang and in 2017 Switzerland seized his $ 100 million super yacht and 25 cars. The US Department of Justice settled the case in 2014 after Nguema Obiang agreed to confiscate $ 30 million, and Swiss prosecutors closed their investigation in 2019 after Nguema Obiang agreed to confiscate the cars, which resulted in raised $ 27 million at a later auction. Under the two agreements, confiscated assets must be returned to the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, but neither government has yet done so. On July 23, the UK sanctioned Nguema Obiang with an asset freeze and a travel ban based on evidence uncovered in the cases.
The discovery of oil in Equatorial Guinea in the 1990s generated enormous wealth that could have transformed the lives of those living in this small Central African country if it had been used to meet the government’s social rights obligations. and economic. Unfortunately, systemic corruption and personal transactions have largely squandered this potential. The president, who has been in power since 1979, making him the oldest head of state in the world, retains full control over the government and does not tolerate dissent. Few, if any, details of the country’s budgets are released and government procurement is not transparent.
The assets recovered pending repatriation to Equatorial Guinea by the three countries could finally offer the general public tangible benefits of oil wealth which, so far, have been widely appreciated by a small group of political elites. However, given that Nguema Obiang remains in a position of power and corruption in the country remains rampant, there is a high risk that these assets will be misappropriated once returned. Equatorial Guinean officials have called the corruption cases a neo-colonialist attempt by foreign governments to plunder the country’s natural resources, making it extremely important to keep the recovered assets independent of the government that seized them.
To ensure the credibility and integrity of the process, France, as well as the United States and Switzerland, should carefully select the projects to be funded and disburse the funds through a fully transparent, accountable and independent mechanism. The system must adhere to the principles of accounting restitution of assets developed by several civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch and EG Justice. These principles build on those agreed by the Global Forum for Asset Recovery, an intergovernmental initiative hosted by the World Bank.
“This case, as well as those of the United States and Switzerland, revealed how the president’s son used his position of power to deprive Equatoguineans of their rights, but they failed to hold him accountable,” said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG. Justice. “Foreign governments must right this wrong and sanction Teodorin for corruption. “