E. Guinea urges UN court to freeze case against leader's son

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The Hague (AFP) - The UN's top court Monday opened three days of hearings into a plea by Equatorial Guinea to order France to suspend a corruption case against its vice president.

France accuses Vice President Teodorin Obiang -- the son of the country's leader -- of embezzlement and the misuse of tens of millions of public funds.

He is due to appear before a Paris court on October 24 on charges of plundering his country's coffers to fund his jet-set lifestyle.

But Malabo was angered by the "unfair and insulting manner in which our country is currently treated by France," its Netherlands envoy Carmelo Nvono Nca told the International Court of Justice.

"The potential damage to Equatorial Guinea's sovereign rights is serious and imminent," he told the tribunal, which is based in The Hague.

Malabo has already appealed to the court to rule in the case, alleging that France has violated Obiang's right to diplomatic immunity.

His father President Teodoro Obiang Nguema has ruled the small central African country with an iron fist since 1979 and is the continent's longest-serving leader. He extended his rule in April when he was re-elected with 93.7 percent of the vote.

He appointed his son as vice president in June -- two years after the first charges were first brought in France.

Equatorial Guinea is now demanding the French proceedings are frozen until the UN tribunal, set up to rule in disputes between states, hands down its ruling.

- 'Irreparable harm' -

"The ongoing criminal proceedings against the vice president of Equatorial Guinea, charged with national defence and state security, represent a real and imminent risk" to the country's rights, said lawyer Michael Wood.

He said the case would cause "irreparable" harm to Equatorial Guinea's "standing in the world" and its international relations.

At this stage of the proceedings, French authorities could "at any time and without advance notice... issue an arrest warrant that could be executed in France or abroad" meaning Obiang was "unable to travel freely abroad to carry out his official functions."

In 2012, French authorities swooped on the Obiang family's six-storey mansion on Avenue Foch -- one of the most upmarket addresses in Paris -- seizing it along with a fleet of luxury cars including two Bugatti Veyrons and a Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Police also took away vanloads of valuables, including paintings, a $4.2-million clock and fine wines worth thousands of euros per bottle.

But Equatorial Guinea is demanding that France be ordered to recognise that the building on Avenue Foch is a diplomatic mission.

Equatorial Guinea has become sub-Saharan Africa's third-biggest oil producer in recent years, with oil revenues accounting for more than 70 percent of national income.

But the wealth has not trickled down. While per capita national income stands at over $10,000 for a population of less than a million, more than half the people live on less than $2 a day.

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