French arrest warrant for Equatorial Guinea VP
PARIS (AP) -- France has issued an arrest warrant for the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, a suspect in an investigation into the alleged misspending of public funds, a judicial official said Friday.
The warrant followed Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue's failure to show up for questioning, and eventual preliminary charges, on Wednesday by investigative judges handling the probe, which targets the acquisition of properties in France by the leaders of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Republic of Congo, the official said.
News of the warrant, initially revealed by the daily Le Monde, came on the same day that UNESCO, the U.N. cultural arm, announced that it will go ahead with presenting a controversial $3 million research prize from Equatorial Guinea next week that pitted nations against each other at the institution dedicated to world harmony through education and culture.
The prize has drawn condemnation from scholars, human rights groups and Western and other nations because of the poor human rights record of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea and corruption within the ruling clan.
The head of the Paris-based U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Irina Bokova, had herself called the award divisive and tried to pressure Equatorial Guinea to withdraw it. With the board's passage of the prize despite the controversy, she had said she would seek legal counsel about how to proceed and was apparently left with no choice.
The name of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema was removed from the prize, first approved by UNESCO in 2008, to make it less objectionable to detractors, but that failed to calm the fires.
"We condemn UNESCO's decision to award this prize against the wishes of many of its own member states and international human rights community," the U.S. ambassador to UNESCO David Killion said in a strongly worded statement. "We simply cannot promote this award given the concerns regarding the questionable source of the prize funds."
The UNESCO-Equatorial Guinea International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences will be awarded Tuesday to Egypt's Maged Al-Sherbiny who heads his country's Academy of Scientific Research and Technology; South Africa's Felix Dapare Dakora, of Tshwane University of Technology; and Mexico's Rossana Arroyo, who teaches at National Polytechnic Institute's Center for Research and Advanced Studies.
It was not immediately clear whether the timing of the two developments was linked.
The warrant seeks the arrest of Obiang, the president's son, for money laundering and misappropriation of public funds among other things -- charges that would have been leveled at the missed hearing as part of the probe, the official said. The judicial official is not authorized to speak publicly about the case and asked not to be identified.
The son's lawyer, Emmanuel Marsigny, contended that the arrest warrant is worthless because his client, recently named second vice president of his country, is covered by immunity.
"You can think what you want about the Obiang family, but Equatorial Guinea is a sovereign state and he (Obiang, the son) is vice-president and recognized as such," Marsigny said in an interview.
Last September, French police seized 16 luxury cars of the son, including a Bugatti whose value was estimated at more than (euro) 1 million, expenditures suspected of being looted from the country whose population lives
That was followed by a search in mid-February of his vast and luxurious Paris apartment building -- a move considered illegal by Equatorial Guinea on the grounds, it said, that the building was part of its diplomatic mission.
The U.S. also has zoned in on Obiang, the son, who is the subject of a U.S. criminal investigation after he moved many millions of dollars of money into the country and, among other things, bought a $30 million home in Malibu, California.
The French arrest warrant "is excellent news which sanctions the flagrant bad faith of Mr. Obiang," said Joseph Breham, a lawyer with Sherpa, the anti-corruption association at the origin of the French complaint.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)