June 6, 2018 / 3:46 PM / a year ago

UPDATE 1-World Court: Equatorial Guinea vs. France case may proceed

(Updates with details, quotes)

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE, June 6 (Reuters) - The International Court of Justice said on Wednesday it can rule in a dispute over whether a luxury building in Paris owned by the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president is part of the African nation’s diplomatic mission.

Equatorial Guinea had argued at the ICJ, also known as the World Court, that a 2012 raid on Theodorin Obiang’s residence was improper because he enjoyed diplomatic immunity and the residence was diplomatic property.

The French government said Equatorial Guinea was attempting to shield Obiang, known for posting pictures of his glamorous lifestyle on Instagram, by adding him to its diplomatic mission retroactively. Police raided Obiang’s residence as part of a corruption investigation, eventually seizing 100 million euros worth of assets, including paintings by Renoir and Degas.

Obiang was convicted in absentia on embezzlement charges last year.

Judges at the U.N.’s highest court said they lacked jurisdiction in any discussion of Obiang’s diplomatic status, but they were empowered under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to determine the status of the building.

That includes “any claims relating to the furnishings and other property present on the premises at 42 Avenue Foch in Paris,” presiding judge Adulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said.

Avenue Foch is a grand, sweeping road near the Arc de Triomphe favored by wealthy African expatriates and politicians.

The Obiang property, bought for 25 million euros in 2005, had 101 rooms, a gym, hair-dressing studio, disco, and a cinema.

Obiang is the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has ruled Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony, for more than three decades.

Rights groups have labeled his administration as one of the world’s most corrupt.

The case at the ICJ will now move forward and the court will set a date for hearings on the merits of the case, a process likely to take more than a year. (Reporting by Toby Sterling, Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and William Maclean)

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