Son of Equatorial Guinea leader may face French corruption trial

PARIS (Reuters) - French prosecutors have requested that the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president be tried for suspected money laundering, an official at the financial prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

Teodorin Obiang, the son of President Teodoro Obiang, had appealed for charges against him to be dropped last year on grounds of diplomatic immunity, but the Cour de Cassation court at the time ruled the charges related “exclusively to his private life in France” and not to his official functions.

The prosecutors have passed on a 36-page indictment that outlines a series of charges to which the defense and civil parties can make observations before judges decide in a month whether to take the case to trial, the official told Reuters.

Obiang is second vice president of the small central African state, where a majority of the population lives in poverty despite rich oil reserves. He also faces money-laundering charges in the United States.

His lawyer, Emmanuel Marsigny, told Reuters they were analyzing the indictment.

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

The case against Teodorin Obiang is part of 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. Together they are suspected of owning 63 luxury properties in Paris and some 200 bank accounts.

Anti-corruption groups Sherpa and Transparency International France, which brought the case against Obiang, three other heads of state and their entourages in 2008, welcomed the decision.

In September, French judges ordered the seizure of a property tied to the family of Sassou Nguesso in an investigation over suspected ill-gotten wealth.

The presidents deny any wrongdoing, and Sassou Nguesso told the French courts in 2013 not to intervene in his country’s internal affairs.

Reporting by Chine Labbe; writing by John Irish; Editing by Mark Trevelyan