The case being brought be French prosecutors against Equatorial Guinea's vice-president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, fails the tests of fairness, compliance with international law, and common sense. Indeed, it is difficult to understand what criminal behavior the French prosecutors are alleging, and what France's interests are in this matter.
Mr. Obiang Mangue will not attend these proceedings because to do so would be a tacit recognition of a right the government of France does not have: to prosecute a case in France for activities that occurred in Equatorial Guinea and were permissible under Equatoguinean law and to criminalize a transaction that was above-board and is really a matter of accounting.
The French prosecutors allege that Mr. Obiang Mangue violated French law by acquiring personal property in France through an Equatoguinean company of which he was the sole owner. In effect, they are saying that he stole from himself in his own country, and that such an act constitutes a crime in France. In fact, in most countries—including Equatorial Guinea, where the company is located, and the United States—an individual may make personal purchases through a sole proprietorship as long as the transaction is properly recorded in the company's financial statements. French prosecutors are seeking to make a criminal matter out of an accounting issue that occurred in a country thousands of kilometers away.
In addition to the French prosecutors' bizarre stretch of legal logic in pressing this case, equally troubling is the notion that France would exert an extraterritorial right over a financial transfer. This is a clear violation of international law. If allowed to stand, it would set a precedent that would open the floodgates for any nation to prosecute any leader or national of another country for any reason. In effect, it would allow nations to use the courts as instruments of politics, foreign policy or simple retribution.
The French prosecutors are taking the principle of judicial independence to dangerous levels by asserting their broad authority to insert themselves into the affairs of a sovereign nation over a matter that does not involve human rights or crime against humanity, but is instead a matter of tax law and accounting regulations. Any disputes that arise between France and Equatorial Guinea should be discussed through proper diplomatic channels.
Mr. Obiang Mangue will vigorously defend himself through his legal counsel in France. We note that the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled last October that property seized by prosecutors in Paris was the property of the government of Equatorial Guinea, and not subject to seizure under international law. We believe that common sense will prevail once again in the application of the law and that the courts in France will dismiss this spurious case.