Equatorial Guinea leader's son found guilty of embezzlement by French court

PARIS (Reuters) - Millions of euros of assets belonging to the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president were ordered to be seized by a French court that found him guilty in absentia on Friday of using money plundered from his country to buy property and luxury cars.

Equatorial Guinea's Second Vice-President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue addresses attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 30, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The Paris court found Teodorin Obiang, 48, guilty of embezzlement, and ordered the confiscation of more than 100 million euros worth of his French assets. Obiang denied the charges.

Obiang, eldest son of President Teodoro Obiang and a vice president himself, was also handed a three-year suspended prison sentence and a suspended 30 million euros ($34.78 million) fine.

The court president cited the slow response from parts of the French banking system in contributing to those penalties being suspended and hence more lenient.

The case is the first of several to reach court in a broader judicial investigation into allegations of illicit acquisitions in France by long-time leaders and family relatives in several African countries including Gabon and Congo Republic.

Obiang’s luxury residence on Paris’ Avenue Foch - a grand, sweeping road near the Arc de Triomphe often favoured by wealthy African expatriates and politicians - was among the assets scrutinised during the trial.

The property, bought for 25 million euros in 2005, had 101 rooms, a gym, hair-dressing studio and disco with cinema screen.

Paris prosecutor Jean-Yves Lourgouilloux said Obiang’s “fraudulent spending” amounted to more than 150 million euros.

The court was critical of Societe Generale, France’s second biggest bank, and the Bank of France, deeming them complacent towards Obiang’s finances and too slow to react.

The role of the two banks was taken into account to justify the suspended sentences for Obiang, the court said.

“The attitude of Societe Generale, similar to that of the Bank of France, may have led (Obiang) to think for a long period of time that there was, in France, some kind of tolerance for these practices,” Benedicte de Perthuis, the most senior judge sitting in the case, told the court.

Societe Generale said it had not been a party in the trial and “therefore we don’t have any particular comment to make”.

Officials at the Bank of France did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Obiang was first put on trial in January but the case, 10 years in the works, was postponed after his lawyers argued they had not had enough time to prepare his defence.

His father, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has ruled Equatorial Guinea - a former Spanish colony - for more than three decades, making him one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, and rights groups have labelled his administration as one of the world’s most corrupt.

Editing by Alison Williams