December 7, 2016 / 3:25 PM / 3 years ago

U.N. court says it lacks jurisdiction to halt French case against Equatorial Guinea vice president

THE HAGUE (Reuters) - The top United Nations court said on Wednesday it lacks jurisdiction to grant an interim request by Equatorial Guinea to halt a French money-laundering case against the tiny African country’s vice president, Teodorin Obiang.

Judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) did however approve Equatorial Guinea’s request to have a building it says is part of its diplomatic mission in Paris be given diplomatic immunity. This would mean the building cannot be searched again by French authorities.

The ICJ’s decision will clear the way for France to pursue its case, which has led to the seizure of assets in Switzerland.

Teodorin Obiang, 47, is the eldest son of 74-year-old President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled Equatorial Guinea since a 1979 coup. He was re-elected in April.

Obiang, who is in charge of defense and security affairs, denies wrongdoing and has said his wealth, which has enabled him to buy luxury real estate in Paris, a private jet and exotic sports cars, was amassed legitimately.

Last month, Swiss authorities confiscated 11 luxury cars, include a Bugatti and several Ferraris, as part of a French legal request in the case.

The ICJ said it had decided to intervene in the French case because of the urgent nature of the request and the risk that the diplomatic mission was at risk of being searched again.

“France shall, pending a final decision in the case, take all measures at its disposal to ensure that the premises presented as housing the diplomatic mission of Equatorial Guinea” be granted diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention, the ICJ said in its ruling.

The court’s decisions are binding under international law.

Equatorial Guinea first launched the case in The Hague in June, arguing the French proceeding violated Obiang’s immunity.[L8N19651D]

The ICJ stressed that Wednesday’s ruling on preliminary measures sought by Equatorial Guinea was no indication of how it would ultimately rule in the case.

Obiang’s trial would be the first to result from a broader French investigation into money laundering, also targeting the families of Gabon’s late president, Omar Bongo, and Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso.

Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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