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Equatorial Guinea closes its UK embassy over corruption allegations

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Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea announced on Monday it was closing its embassy in London after the United Kingdom imposed sanctions against Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the vice president and son of the country's veteran president, over for allegedly syphoning state assets into his own bank accounts.

Foreign Minister Simeon Oyono Esono told national TV that he did not "accept interference" in the central African state's "domestic affairs," and said the sanctions were "breaching the principle of international law".

"The first decision that the government has taken is the total closure of our diplomatic mission in London," Foreign Minister Simeon Oyono Esono told state broadcaster TVGE.

He gave no details as to when the decision would take effect.

Equatorial Guinea on Saturday lashed the sanctions as "unilateral and illegal".

"The baseless sanctions imposed by the British government find their justification in manipulation, in lies... that certain non-governmental organisations are fomenting against the good image of Equatorial Guinea," it said.

The younger Obiang "has not made any investment in the United Kingdom", the government added.

This reaction from Equatorial Guinea comes days after British government decided to freeze Obiang's assets and bar him entry to the United Kingdom.

According to British autorities, the president's son would have concluded corrupt contracting arrangements and solicited bribes to support his jet-setting lifestyle. 

They claim he has splurged $500 million on mansions around the world, luxury cars and a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia including a $275,000 crystal-covered glove that the singer wore on his 1987-89 "Bad" tour.

Allegations that resonate with charges brought against him in France, where he is accused of money laudering.

The junior Obiang is already entangled in a dispute with France over a 107-million-euro mansion on Paris's swanky Avenue Foch that was seized along with a fleet of luxury cars in a probe into so-called "ill-gotten gains."

In February 2020, a French court handed him a three-year suspended sentence, a 30-million-euro fine and confiscation of his assets in France.

A final ruling by the Court of Cassation, the paramount tribunal in France's judicial system, is expected on Wednesday.

"A step in the right direction"

The only Spanish-speaking country in sub-Saharan Africa, Equatorial Guinea is one of the most enclosed nations on the continent, and many of its people live in deep poverty despite oil wealth.

Its ruler Obiang, 79, is the world's longest-serving sitting president and is frequently accused by rights groups of abuses.

In 1979, he ousted his uncle Francisco Macias Nguema, who had ruled the country since independence from Spain in 1968, and had him shot by firing squad.

His son Teodorin, 53, is vice president with responsibility for defence and security and has long been considered as his likely successor.

Tutu Alicante, head of EG Justice, a group that campaigns for human rights in Equatorian Guinea, said the sanctions were, "a step in the right direction, which shows that corruption is not victimless crime."

Most of the country's 1.4 million citizens have no access to running water or decent education, said Alicante, who lives in exile.

The economy has been badly hit since a slump in oil prices in 2014 crimped government revenue.

In its 2020 budget, Equatorial Guinea allocated 95 billion CFA francs, the equivalent of $170 million to defence spendings, compared to 59 billion francs to education.

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