Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo lost his latest bid to establish a UNESCO life science prize in his own name, following protests by human rights advocates and anti-corruption groups that the government had squandered the country's oil-riches to fund the lavish lifestyle of his relatives.
Today, the EquatoGuinean leader offered his response, appointing his son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who has become an international symbol of the regimes excesses, as his country's envoy to UNESCO.
The younger Obiang, who goes by Teodorin and currently serves as Equatorial Guinea's minister for agriculture and forestry, has been the target of criminal investigations in France and Spain. Earlier this month, French authorities in Paris seized a fleet of luxury cars -- including Ferraris, Bugattis, and a Maserati -- belonging to the younger Obiang.
This morning, the U.S. Justice Department filed a notice in connection with a "claim for the forfeiture of more than $70 million in assets, including a mansion, jet and Michael Jackson memorabilia" belonging to Teodorin, according to a press release issued by the New York-based Human Rights Watch. The forfeiture was first reported by Foreign Policy earlier this month.
According to the rights group and most analysts, Teodorin, who also serves as vice president of Equatorial Guinea's ruling party, is his fathers' presumed choice to succeed him as the country's leader. "He is known for his lavish, jet-setting lifestyle and love of luxury vehicles, which contrast sharply with the low living standards of the majority of the inhabitants of Equatorial Guinea," the report stated.
The Equatorial Guinean government has repeatedly denied the charges of corruption, saying the Obiang family is the target of an unfair smear campaign by foreign groups.
Kenneth Hurwitz, a senior legal officer for the Open Society's Justice Initiative, said he believes that the move to accredit the young Obiang at UNESCO is aimed at immunizing him from prosecution in a French court. "My take is this is an attempt to make a creditable claim of diplomatic immunity," Hurwitz told Turtle Bay.
As to the precedent, Hurwitz said that a French businessman, Pierre Falcone, had been assigned to UNESCO on behalf of the Angolan government while he faced charges of arms trafficking in violation of French law. Falcone was convicted in Oct. 2009 by a criminal court in Paris on charges relating to "illegal arms deals, tax fraud, money laundering, embezzlement and other crimes," but later acquitted on all charges relating to arms trading by the Paris Court of Appeals on April 29, 2011.
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Correction: This post has been edited to reflect inaccuracies relating to Pierre Falcone.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.