Equatorial Guinea sues France at UN court over Paris mansion

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Equatorial Guinea has filed a case against France at the International Court of Justice accusing Paris of “misappropriation of public funds,” the court announced Friday. It’s the latest step in a lengthy legal tug-of-war centered on a mansion situated on an expensive avenue in the French capital.

The latest case is linked to the conviction, upheld at appeal last year, in France of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s long-serving president for money laundering and embezzling millions of dollars in public money. The French court handed him a three-year suspended sentence, fined him 30 million euros and ordered property in France worth tens of millions of euros seized. That included the mansion on Avenue Foch, which France now plans to sell.

The Hague-based International Court of Justice said that Equatorial Guinea says it has made requests, based on a United Nations anti-corruption convention, “to recover certain assets corresponding to property confiscated by France” that the French government has not responded to. Among the assets requested is the Avenue Foch mansion. The African country filed the case against France Thursday.

Equatorial Guinea argues that by “disregarding” the request, France has “violated its obligations under the Convention,” the court said.

The African nation is asking the court to rule that France is breaching the U.N. convention and to order France to “return to Equatorial Guinea all property that is the subject of a recovery request from Equatorial Guinea.”

It also asks the court to impose an immediate ban on the sale of the mansion on the broad avenue leading to the Arc de Triomphe.

While the case could take years at the Hague-based court, a hearing will likely be scheduled in coming weeks to discuss the urgent request for the sale ban.

It is not the first time the mansion has been the subject of a case at the U.N.’s highest judicial organ. In December 2020, the world court ruled that the property was never a diplomatic outpost, rejecting Equatorial Guinea’s argument that it served as the country’s embassy and that France therefore was barred from seizing it under a treaty governing diplomatic relations between countries.

Obiang was accused by French prosecutors of spending tens of millions of dollars in France with funds stemming from corruption, embezzlement and extortion in his country. He has led a lavish lifestyle involving luxury and sports cars, designer clothes, artworks of great value and high-end real estate.

Despite its oil and gas riches, Equatorial Guinea has a dramatic gap between its privileged ruling class and much of the population, which thrives mainly on subsistence farming. The former Spanish colony is run by Africa’s longest-serving president, Obiang’s father Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

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