A French court gave Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president, a suspended sentence of three years on October 27 for embezzling millions from public funds. Obiang has also served as his father’s first vice president since 2016. The ruling also imposed a $35 million fine and demanded that Obiang’s assets be confiscated.
The decision was the first of three cases spearheaded by two anti-corruption NGOs, Transparency International and Sherpa, which are taking aim at the families of African leaders, including Gabon’s Ali Bongo and his father, as well as the president of the Republic of the Congo, Denis Sassou-Nguesso.
The inquiries are known as the case of “ill-gotten gains” and mark a departure for the French judicial system, which has historically been hesitant to attack the rampant money laundering perpetrated by foreign leaders within its borders. Paris has long been a prime destination for these leaders, especially those from former French colonies, to embezzle enormous wealth.
Among the assets seized from Obiang was his $124 million, six-story house on the Champs-Elysees, which includes a hair salon, hammam, gym, and a disco. The majority of Equatorial Guineans live below the poverty line of $2 a day, despite the country being one of Africa’s top oil producers.
In fact, in 2000, Equatorial Guinea was Africa’s wealthiest country per inhabitant, though extreme income inequality meant that most people still lived under the UN’s poverty line. The country’s health and education sectors are crippled, and the government has squandered millions on highways to nowhere and unused five-star hotels.
Around $4 billion of the government’s annual $5 billion budget—80 percent—goes toward prestige infrastructure projects; whereas, the average spending on infrastructure for African countries is around 30 percent.
Teodorin Obiang is perhaps the most ostentatious of the family with his wealth, having been known to race his many exotic cars on the country’s empty highways, but corruption is a large-scale problem throughout the country.
Though it is highly unlikely that he or any of his family members will ever be tried in domestic courts, France’s decision to crack-down on rampant embezzlement by African leaders could signal a willingness from the international community to more actively address corruption on the continent.