(AFP) – Feb 14, 2012
PARIS — French police on Tuesday searched an upmarket Paris residence of the son of Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema as part of a corruption probe, sources close to the matter told AFP.
The president's son, Teodoro Obiang Mangue, was reportedly absent during the search by anti-graft police who were met with some resistance from occupants who claimed the building was protected by diplomatic immunity.
The 1,000-square metre (over 10,000 square foot) apartment in a six-storey mansion is on the chic Avenue Foch in Paris's expensive 16th arrondissement.
French judges Roger Le Loire and Rene Grouman have since 2010 been probing the source of money spent in France by Obiang, Congo-Brazzaville's President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon.
The charges were brought by Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption campaign group which alleges the leaders and their relatives spent state funds from their countries on lavish purchases in France.
TI alleges Obiang owned more than four million euros worth of vehicles in France, while altogether the three leaders had accumulated French assets worth 160 million euros ($210 million).
Obiang has accused TI of running a campaign of disinformation, and criticised rich nations for a "savage exploitation" of his country's natural resources.
In September last year, 11 of the family's luxury cars were seized in Paris as part of the probe.
"This building belongs to the state of Equatorial Guinea not to the presidency," a lawyer representing the country, Olivier Pardo, told journalists outside the building, as police held back onlookers.
"This is an inviolable place and despite this search operations are under way here," Pardo said, saying the flat was home to "Equatorial Guinea's representative at UNESCO."
"Imagine what would happen if the same thing happened to a French diplomatic building in Equatorial Guinea!" Pardo said.
Obiang in October nominated his son, considered the likely successor to the president of the tiny, oil-rich African state, as deputy envoy to the Paris-based UNESCO.
Obiang has ruled Equatorial Guinea with an iron grip since seizing power in a 1979 coup d'etat, making him the continent's longest-serving head of state.
His country is sub-Saharan Africa's third biggest oil exporter but its people live in grinding poverty.
The appointment to UNESCO was announced on the same day that Human Rights Watch urged United States authorities to move quickly to probe his alleged corruption and money-laundering.
The New York-based rights group cited a US Justice Department claim on more than $70 million of his assets, including a mansion, jet and Michael Jackson memorabilia such as a "crystal-covered 'Bad Tour' glove".
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