France puts Equatorial Guinea leader's son under formal investigation

PARIS Wed Mar 19, 2014 4:40pm EDT

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PARIS (Reuters) - The son of Equatorial Guinea's president has been put under formal investigation in France for money laundering, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

French magistrates have been investigating Equatorial Guinea's leaders since December 2010 amid suspicions of embezzling public funds to buy real estate and other assets in France.

Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang, was informed that he was put under investigation by video conference from his country, his lawyer Emmanuel Marsigny told Reuters.

Under French criminal law, a formal investigation means there is "serious or consistent evidence" pointing to likely implication of a suspect in a crime. It is one step closer to a trial, but some such investigations have been dropped without going to court.

Teodorin Obiang is the Agriculture Minister and second Vice President of the small central African state, where a majority of the population lives in poverty despite rich oil reserves and forests. He also faces money-laundering charges in the United States.

Obiang has denied wrongdoing and said his wealth, which has allowed him to purchase luxury real estate in Paris, a private jet and a stable of exotic sports cars, was amassed legitimately through successful business dealings.

In June 2013, a French court rejected a bid by Equatorial Guinea to get the preliminary probe annulled and also contested the seizure of a Paris luxury property that investigators considered to belong to Teodorin Obiang.

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

(Reporting by Gerard Bon, writing by Leigh Thomas, editing by G Crosse)

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