THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A United Nations court ruled Wednesday that it has jurisdiction over a dispute between France and Equatorial Guinea that centers on whether a mansion on a swanky Paris avenue is a diplomatic outpost for the Central African nation.
Another court in Paris last year ordered the mansion confiscated, along with a stash of sports cars and designer clothes, as it convicted the son of Equatorial Guinea's president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, of embezzling millions of dollars in public money. It handed him a three-year suspended prison sentence. He has appealed.
The new ruling by the U.N.'s International Court of Justice means its judges will now rule on whether France breached a treaty governing diplomatic relations with the confiscation order.
The Paris court has said it cannot carry out the order until the ICJ case is completed, a process likely to take months.
Underscoring an earlier preliminary ruling in the case, the ICJ said it does not have jurisdiction over Equatorial Guinea's claim that Obiang, the country's second vice president, has diplomatic immunity, which could have shielded him from prosecution.
French prosecutors say Obiang used the embezzled money to stay in Parisian palaces and later purchased the Avenue Foch mansion. The defense said the mansion serves as Equatorial Guinea's embassy.
According to Paris court documents, Obiang bought up to 15 cars in France for 5.7 million euros ($6.7 million) and once splashed nearly 20 million euros at an art auction. A governess and others employed by him in Paris told investigators that their boss came to France with suitcases full of cash and paid mainly in cash for luxury goods.
The case highlighted the well-known corruption and mismanagement of the economy in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea and the dramatic gap between the privileged ruling class and much of its population.
The former Spanish colony is run by Africa's longest-serving president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.