Equatorial Guinea’s VP on trial in France

Equatorial Guinea’s flamboyant vice-president is on trial in absentia in France on charges of corruption after he failed to stop the landmark case.

Referred to as a “big-time bandit,” Teodorin Obiang Nguema is accused of buying a mansion and sports cars in France with a fortune amassed from oil-rich Equatorial Guinea’s public funds.

The trial is the first since France started investigating African leaders accused of illegally acquiring wealth, coming after a decade-long campaign by anti-corruption groups demanding that France act against leaders suspected of stashing their “ill-gotten gains” in Europe.

Mr Obiang’s six-storey Paris villa, estimated to be worth more than $100m. It boasts a cinema, spa, hair salon and taps covered in gold leaf, according to AFP news agency reports.

The government of Equatorial Guinea has launched a bid at the International Court of Justice to prevent the trial from going ahead; arguing Mr Obiang had diplomatic immunity. The United Nations’ court however turned down the request.

In November, Swiss authorities seized 11 cars belonging to Mr Obiang, accusing him of money-laundering. Among them was reportedly a Porsche valued at more than $830,000 and a Bugatti Veyron which sells for $2m.

In 2014, the US filed claims against Obiang’s US-based assets worth more than $70m, alleging they were proceeds of corruption.

The President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, is Africa’s longest serving leader. He seized power in 1979, and promoted his son to the post of vice-president in 2012.

The country struck oil in 1995 but most of its population still lives in abject poverty.