France Assailed at UN for Prosecuting Equatorial Guinean Leader

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — Arguing before the highest court of the United Nations, a representative for Equatorial Guinea challenged France’s prosecution of a vice president for the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa.

“France insists in not respecting a sovereign and fully independent state,” Ambassador to the Netherlands Carmelo Nvono-Nca said Monday, addressing a 16-judge-panel of the International Court of Justice.

Carmelo Nvono Nca represents Equatorial Guinea on Monday, the first day of hearings in a case with France at the Peace Palace, the seat of International Court of Justice at The Hague. (UN Photo/ICJ-CIJ/Frank van Beek. via CNS)

The case stems from a raid French police conducted in 2012 at 42 Avenue Foch in Paris, a building that the tiny, 11,000-square-mile Equatorial Guinea claims as a diplomatic residence but France maintains was a private one.

Nearly 80% of Equatorial Guinea lives in poverty, according to the World Bank, but Equatorial Guinea bought the 101-room building in the most expensive neighborhood of Paris for $27 million in 2005. France’s raid unearthed some $108 million in assets including 11 luxury cars, five artworks by Rodin and bottles of Château Pétrus, the world’s most expensive wines.

Pressure from anti-corruption NGOs Sherpa and Transparency International spurred the investigation of Equatorial Guinea’s flamboyant vice president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, despite France’s long history of ignoring spending from other foreign leaders in its capital.

The son of the current president, Obiang amassed thousands of followers on Instagram for posting pictures of his lavish lifestyle. He was tried in absentia in Paris and convicted in 2017 of embezzling public funds. Last week, a French appeals court upheld his three-year-suspended sentence and $32 million fine.

In its case before the UN, however, Equatorial Guinea argues that Obiang is shielded from prosecution under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Immunity.

The Court of Justice scheduled a week of hearings on the case at the Peace Palace, its headquarters at The Hague, after finding in 2016 that it had jurisdiction to hear the jurisdictional questions surrounding Equatorial Guinea’s Paris property. In the same ruling, he court held that it lacked jurisdiction to determine Obiang’s diplomatic status.

Mathias Forteau, a professor of public law at the University of Paris Ouest, was part of the French legal delegation, all wearing scarlet, fur-trimmed robes as part of their court’s dress.

“France never recognized the building as the diplomatic premises of Equatorial Guinea and continues to address its correspondence to another address,” Forteau said Tuesday.

Both parties return tomorrow to hear rebuttals from Equatorial Guinea.

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