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Corruption trial against 'playboy' son of Equatorial Guinea's president opens in France

Teodorin Obiang is accused of buying swanky Parisian property and luxury cars with embezzled money. It's not the first case against Obiang; in 2014, the US seized his Miami mansion and Michael Jackson memorabilia.

The trial against Teodorin Obiang over purchases made in France with money allegedly stolen from public funds opened on Monday. French prosecutors allege that between 2004 and 2011, Obiang stole nearly 110 million euros of public funds to finance his luxury lifestyle.

During that time, he served as agriculture minister under his father. Obiang currently serves as second vice-president in his country. If convicted, Obiang could face up to 10 years in prison and substantial fines. He denies the charges. 

In 2011, French police seized assets from Obiang's Paris estate including Ferrari and Bugatti sports cars, expensive art and luxury suits and shoes. His Paris estate is valued at 25 million euros and includes a gymnasium, a steam room and a discotheque. But Obiang's official salary as agriculture minister was only $80,000 (76,000 euros) per year and the position legally required him to refrain from other business dealings.  

Rich leaders, poor citizens

The case against Obiang is the first to go to trial from an investigation against three long-time African leaders and their families who allegedly purchased real estate in France with embezzled state funds. Transparency advocacy organizations Sherpa and Transparency International have long lobbied for this investigation. They believe that the leader of Gabon, Ali Bongo, the president of Congo Republic, Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Teodoro Obiang, African's longest serving head-of-state and their families have misused public funds to lead a luxury lifestyle while most citizens in their countries remain poor. Though Equatorial Guinea is rich in oil, over half of its people live below the poverty line.

Luxury cars owned by Teodorin Obiang seized by Swiss police (picture-alliance/dpa/L. Gillieron)

Luxury cars owned by Teodorin Obiang seized by Swiss police

Teodorin Obiang was not present at court. His lawyer Emmanuel Marsigny requested for the trial to be suspended, arguing that his client had not been given enough time to prepare for the case."Believe me, Mr. Nguema is not a time-bandit. He just wants his rights observed," Marsigny told Reuters.

William Bourdon of Transparency International accused the defense of trying to "paralyze" the law through "opportunistic" and "malicious" maneuveurs.

Equatorial Guinea previously argued that Obiang could not be sued because he had diplomatic immunity, but the International Court of Justice declined the request to stop the trial.

US seized Michael Jackson memorabilia

The French case is not the first of its kind against the eldest son of president Teodoro Obiang. In 2014, corruption charges in the US forced Obiang to surrender his Malibu mansion, a Ferrari and Michael Jackson memorabilia collectively worth more than 30 million dollars. Swiss authorities are currently investigating Obiang. In November, they seized 11 luxury cars owned by him.

The French case is not the first of its kind against the eldest son of president Teodoro Obiang. In 2014, corruption charges in the US forced Obiang to surrender his Malibu mansion, his Ferrari and his Michael Jackson memorabilia collectively worth more than 30 million dollars. Swiss authorities are currently investigating Obiang. In November, they seized 11 luxury cars owned by him, including a Bugatti worth about two million euros.

The court is set to decide whether the trial against Obiang will go forward on Wednesday. If this is the case, a verdict is expected by Mid-January.

mb/rc (AP, AFP, Reuters)