PARIS — French investigators have issued an arrest warrant for the son of Equatorial Guinea's president as part of a probe into suspected ill-gotten gains hidden in France by a number of African autocrats.
Teodoro Nguema Obiang failed to turn up for questioning by fraud detectives in Paris on Wednesday. The 41-year-old playboy is being investigated on allegations of embezzling funds from his home country, money-laundering and breach of trust.
Police are probing the estimated $195 million in assets held in France by three African leaders — Ali Bongo of Gabon, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of Congo-Brazzaville and Obiang's father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo — and their families. All have denied building up personal wealth in France through embezzlement, money-laundering and misuse of public funds.
Police seized 14 luxury cars worth about $6 million in a spectacular raid on the younger Obiang's opulent five-story home in Avenue Foch, near the Champs Elysees, in October. The mansion boasts a disco, spa room, hair salon, gold-and-jewel-encrusted taps and breathtaking balcony views of the Arc de Triomphe.
Obiang is also under investigation on similar accusations in the United States, where $70 million of his assets, including a Gulfstream jet, yachts, cars and Michael Jackson memorabilia, were seized last year. In June, the U.S. Department of Justice filed court papers alleging he spent $315 million on property and luxury goods between 2004 and 2011.
In Paris, his impressive fleet of sports cars, including a Maserati, an Aston Martin, a Porsche Carrera and a Mercedes Maybach, did not go unnoticed by neighbors. In February, one told Britain's Guardian newspaper: "The noise factor was extreme. He seemed obsessed with security so when he wanted to go out between midnight and 2 a.m., he'd order the chauffeur to warm up four cars so no one knew which he'd take. Can you imagine the noise of Ferraris, Porsches and Maseratis all running at once? Then he'd come down and decide to take a fifth car and that would have to be started."
In May, the son was named Equatorial Guinea's second vice president in charge of defense and security and is expected to succeed his father, who has run the country with an iron fist since a successful coup d'etat in 1979.
— Kim Willsher
Photo: Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the iron-fisted president of Equatorial Guinea, meets then-French President Jacques Chirac in Paris in September 2002. Credit: Francois Mori / Associated Press.