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French court sentences Teodorin Obiang, Equatorial Guinea VP, to jail

Teodorin Obiang, Vice President of Equatorial Guinea, has been handed a three-year suspended prison sentence by a court in France.

Obiang, who is also the son of Teodoro Obiang, President of Equatorial Guinea, was tried in absentia on charges bordering on embezzlement, money laundering, corruption and abuse of office.

The 48-year-old was also given a suspended fine of €30 million.

Spearheaded by two anti-corruption groups, the case, is the first of three targeting the families of African leaders for using ill-gotten gains to live it up in France.

Obiang was accused of spending more than 1,000 times his official annual salary on a six-storeyed townhouse in a posh part of the French capital, a fleet of fast cars and artworks, among other assets.

Prosecutors argued he could not have funded such lavish purchases without pilfering public money from his West African homeland.

The affair first made headlines in 2011 when French police raided Obiang’s mansion on the glitzy Avenue Foch in Paris, hiring trucks to haul away a fleet of Bugattis, Ferraris, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and other cars.

The property, valued at €107 million, was seized by investigators.

However, Obiang denies the charges, insisting that his money came from legitimate sources and that all his purchases were legal.

His lawyers accused France of “meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state”, and has lodged an appeal at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

According to France24, Obiang’s counsels accused the French justice system “of trying to replace Equatorial Guinean judges with themselves”.

The court did not follow prosecutors’ recommendations on sentencing but did grant their request that his residence, which Equatorial Guinea protested was a diplomatic mission, and other assets be confiscated.

The ruling is seen as a victory for the French chapter of Transparency International France and its sister NGO Sherpa, which brought the complaint against Obiang.

“Every year, billions of euros are embezzled to fund the profligate lifestyle of a few corrupt leaders abroad, particularly in France,” Transparency International said in a statement ahead of the ruling, adding that it aimed “to ensure that France is no longer a place to launder money”.

Obiang was Agriculture and Forestry Minister before being promoted by his father to Vice President in 2012, putting him in pole position to succeed him as leader.

Many of his eye-popping purchases were made through Somagui Forestal, a forestry company that prosecutors called “an empty shell used solely to channel public money”.

His tastes included sharp suits from Paris’s top tailors, whom he allegedly paid with suitcases of cash.