March 30, 2012 / 10:44 AM / 5 years ago

Equatorial Guinea slams French move against leader's son

MALABO, March 30 (Reuters) - Equatorial Guinea on Friday condemned as a provocation a move by French judges to seek the arrest of the son of its president on money laundering charges and warned Paris it considered retaliating.

A judicial source told Reuters on March 27 that two French judges were seeking an international arrest warrant for the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

The judges consider there are grounds to suspect the son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who is agriculture minister in the oil-rich central African country, acquired real estate in France by fraudulent means.

In a sharply worded statement, Equatorial Guinea’s government recalled an abortive foreign-backed 2004 coup bid against Obiang Nguema’s government, saying the move against the son, widely known as “Teodorin”, was an “open provocation”.

“If France wants a rupture of relations with the Equatorial Guinean State, unilaterally, they should state it clearly,” the statement said.

It said the government “reserves the right to reciprocate”, saying that French companies in Equatorial Guinea would feel the “negative consequences” of the French actions.

The warrant will not be released until a prosecutor has reviewed the request and decides whether to proceed.

Obiang has ruled the former Spanish colony for more than three decades, making him the longest-serving African leader following the demise of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. Rights groups have long accused his government of corruption.

Equatorial Guinea is the third biggest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria and Angola. Despite its oil wealth most of its population still live in poverty.

Teodorin has frequently been seen enjoying an extravagant lifestyle abroad with multi-million dollar mansions, jets and yachts, particularly in France and the United States.

The French judges, who have been handling the case since 2010 on the basis of “concealment of embezzled public funds,” suspect that the properties in France were purchased with public money from Equatorial Guinea.

As part of the investigation, French police raided a building belonging to Equatorial Guinea in a wealthy area of Paris in February. After three days they removed art works and fine wines worth several million euros.

Equatorial Guinea said this raid was a violation of the Vienna Convention that governs diplomatic relations between countries. It complained that the French authorities acted without informing it or seeking its collaboration.

The building was valued at about 150 million euros and investigators say it housed a nightclub and hairdressers, which suggested it was not being used as a diplomatic residence.

Anti-corruption organisation Transparency International had filed the original legal complaint against Teodorin Obiang.

On March 1, Teodorin filed for defamation against Daniel Lebegue, the president of the French arm of Transparency, denying he had embezzled funds.

U.S. companies dominate the country’s oil industry. In January, Teodorin asked a U.S. court to dismiss attempts by the Obama administration to seize some $71 million worth of his assets, denying charges that they were obtained with allegedly corrupt funds taken from his country. (Writing by Pascal Fletcher Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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