Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Equatorial Guinea v. France

Equatorial Guinea has filed an application with the International Court of Justice seeking an order that would compel France to end its corruption investigation against the country's president and vice president. France, in an investigation known popularly as biens mal acquis or ill-gotten gains, has seized a Paris estate valued at approximately 150 million euros along with several million euros worth of art, wine, and automobiles owned by Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, Equatorial Guinea's second vice president and son of long-time president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. A similar forfeiture case involving property in the United States was filed last year by federal prosecutors and is now being litigated.

A press release issued by the ICJ today states,
Equatorial Guinea asserts that those procedural actions violate the principles of equality between States, non-intervention, sovereignty and respect for immunity from criminal jurisdiction. The Republic of Equatorial Guinea therefore asks the Court "to put an end to these breaches of international law" by ordering France, inter alia, to "bring a halt to [the] criminal proceedings" and to "take all measures necessary to nullify the effects of the arrest warrant issued against the Second Vice-President of Equatorial Guinea and of its circulation”. In its "request for provisional measures", Equatorial Guinea requests the Court, in particular, to "order  . . . the return . . . of the property and premises . . . belonging to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea" and seized by the French judges in the context of the investigation.
Equatorial Guinea has argued that the estate that was seized in Paris, along with its contents, is a diplomatic residence--and thus protected by diplomatic immunity--as a result of the fact that its principal resident Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue is, in addition to his other responsibilities, the Equatoguinean representative to UNESCO, which is headquartered in Paris. French authorities have taken the position that Obiang's diplomatic responsibilities were created in an effort to extend diplomatic immunity after the corruption investigation was well under way.

Before the ICJ can proceed with a case based on Equatorial Guinea's application, France must consent to the jurisdiction of the Court.

There has been no comment from the French government regarding Equatorial Guinea's application.