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France: Equatorial Guinea's world court case is abuse of law

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — France told judges at the United Nations' highest court on Tuesday that they do not have jurisdiction in a case brought by Equatorial Guinea aimed at halting a Paris money-laundering case against the son of the African nation's president.

Alain Pellet, a law professor representing France, told the International Court of Justice that Equatorial Guinea's case was a "flagrant and evident abuse of law."

Equatorial Guinea filed the case with the world court earlier this year, saying that Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue has immunity from prosecution in France because of his position as vice-president and insisting that a swanky mansion on one of Paris' most upscale avenues that figures in the French case is actually the country's embassy and cannot be confiscated.

Equatorial Guinea lawyers on Monday asked the Hague-based court to impose interim measures ordering France to halt the prosecution. French lawyers responded by saying that the court lacks jurisdiction and — even if it does — there is no urgent reason for an interim order to halt the Paris proceedings, which are scheduled to start next week.

It was not immediately clear when the world court would issue a ruling.

France said that the hearing next week in Paris would be procedural and it could take years for the case to progress through French courts.

The long-running French case and the world court proceedings have again highlighted details of the lavish lifestyle of Obiang, whose father is Africa's longest-serving president. Equatorial Guinea is rich in oil and gas, but most of the country's population still lives in poverty.

The same cannot be said for the ruling elite. In 2011, French authorities seized assets from the Paris mansion including Ferrari and Bugatti Veyron sports cars, expensive art works and "countless" high-end suits and shoes, Pellet said.

"What was found at 42 Avenue Foch cannot possibly be associated with a diplomatic mission," he told judges.

The French case is not the first time Obiang's opulent way of life has been targeted overseas and it doesn't look like being the last.

In 2014, he reached a deal with U.S. authorities to sell a Malibu mansion, a Ferrari and Michael Jackson memorabilia to raise more than $30 million. The U.S. had in 2011 filed claims against Obiang's U.S.-based assets worth more than $70 million, alleging they were the proceeds of corruption.

Obiang said after the U.S. deal that he was pleased to end the proceedings, even though his property "was acquired with funds earned in accordance with the laws of my country."

On Tuesday, Swiss authorities said they have begun a preliminary investigation into Obiang. The Swiss Federal Office of Justice said it had sent a judicial request to French authorities seeking support for its probe.


Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to this report.