PARIS – The opening of the trial of Teodorin Obiang Nguema, Vice President of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its President, commenced on Monday.

Mr. Nguema is on trial for corruption and embezzlement; plundering state funds for personal gains. It has been reported Mr. Nguema used these funds to finance his lavish lifestyle in France including buying opulent properties, yachts, luxury cars, and even Micheal Jackson’s crystal glove, according to one report.

The trial comes as part of France’s plan to hold the African leaders’ accountable for their abuse of their countries’ resources and coffers to spend on luxury properties in France, as stated by a French judge in 2009. Mr. Nguema is one of three leaders targeted since 2010, the other two being: Congo-Brazzaville’s President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon.

The trial comes after Equatorial Guinea filed a case in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) contesting France’s jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Nguema, arguing that it is a breach of its sovereignty and of international law regarding diplomatic relations.

Equatorial Guinea argued that Mr. Nguema’s position as a Vice President gives him diplomatic immunity, and hence the French courts have no jurisdiction over Mr. Nguema and are in breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Equatorial Guinea called for measures to be taken against France and for the court to block the trial.

In December 2016 the ICJ ruled against the African nation’s claim. The ICJ ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction over the case, and accordingly had no power to block the trial. The court did maintain, however, that Mr. Nguema’s Avenue Foch property is part of Equatorial Guinea’s diplomatic mission, and hence enjoying diplomatic immunity.

While this development is hailed by some as a progressive step toward battling the impunity enjoyed by many leaders allowing them to plunder and abuse their nations, it also risks aggravating the already frustrated African Nations.

Tensions have been rising since the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Sudan’s president Al-Bashir, which was heavily contested by several African Nations and by the African Union. The ICJ’s decision to dismiss Equatorial Guinea’s case may thus have adverse effects on other African Nations’ attitudes toward the international legal system.

Lamyae Elkoussy, Correspondant (Politics)

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