July 13, 2012 / 4:24 PM / in 5 years

France issues seeks arrest of E.Guinea leader's son

* Warrant issued on charges of laundering public funds

* Teodorin’s lawyer slams decision as illegal

* Transparency Int‘l wants him declared “persona non grata”

PARIS, July 13 (Reuters) - Two French judges have issued an arrest warrant for the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema on charges of money-laundering, judicial sources said on Friday.

The judges, Roger Le Loire and Rene Grouman, suspect Teodorin Obiang, who is agriculture minister in the small, oil-rich central African state, of siphoning off state funds to buy real estate in France. Teodorin has denied any wrongdoing.

His lawyer Emanuel Marsigny slammed the move as illegal and said that, according to the customs of international law, foreign officials had immunity from prosecution.

“This is against international legal practices and it’s staggering that the judges could have disregarded them to this extent,” he told Reuters, adding that the Equatorial Guinea government would raise the matter with the French Foreign Ministry.

Influential daily Le Monde said the judges had issued the warrant after Teodorin, whose full name is Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, refused to come in for questioning on Wednesday as part of the ongoing investigation.

The warrant means he is barred from entering France and may also face travel restrictions in his own country.

Anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, which filed the original legal complaint, urged France to officially declare Teodorin a “persona non grata”, under the convention on international diplomatic relations.

He also faces similar money-laundering charges in the United States, where he owns property estimated at several tens of millions of dollars.

Teodorin is frequently seen enjoying an extravagant lifestyle abroad, with multi-million dollar mansions, jets and yachts.

As part of the money-laundering investigation, French police raided a building belonging to Equatorial Guinea in a wealthy area of Paris in February, where they seized millions of euros of artworks, jewellery and fine wines.

The building was valued at 150 million euros ($182.76 million) and investigators say it housed a nightclub and hairdressers, suggesting it was not being used for diplomatic purposes.

Teodorin’s father, President Teodoro Obiang, who has ruled the former Spanish colony for more than three decades, has been widely condemned by rights groups as one of the world’s most corrupt leaders.

In a statement of protest last month, U.N. cultural agency UNESCO voted to remove his name from the $3 million President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo science prize, replacing it with that of his country.

Serious questions still remain about the funding of the prize, but UNESCO has said it will go ahead with an award ceremony next week. A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said on Thursday France will boycott the event.

The case against Teodorin is part of a broader investigation into money-laundering, targeting the families of Gabonese President Ali Bongo and Congo Republic’s President Denis Sassou-Nguesso. Together they are suspected of owning 63 luxury properties in Paris and some 200 bank accounts.

Visiting President Francois Hollande in Paris last week, Ali Bongo said the suspected web of influence and corruption between France and its former colonies, known as “la Francafrique” and decried by associations, did not exist. ($1 = 0.8208 euros) (Reporting By Thierry Leveque and John Irish; Writing by Vicky Buffery; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Mark Heinrich)

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