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France seizes E. Guinea ruling family's mansion: justice

France has seized the Paris mansion of Equatorial Guinea leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema's family as part of a graft probe involving his son, a source close to the enquiry said Friday.

The six-storey mansion on the chic Avenue Foch in the 16th district, reportedly worth between 100 and 150 million euros, was seized on July 19 in connection with an investigation into the president's son, Teodorin Obiang, the source said.

French judges Roger Le Loire and Rene Grouman, who suspect Teodorin Obiang of using embezzled funds, in July issued an international arrest warrant for the president's son, four months after beginning proceedings and after Obiang ignored a second summons for questioning.

French lawyers for Teodorin Obiang said the warrant "seriously infringed" on international law since he benefits from "total immunity" accorded to the highest representatives of states.

Teodorin Obiang has since May been second vice-president of the oil-rich west African country, which has been ruled with an iron fist since 1979 by his father.

The investigating magistrates have since 2010 been probing the source of money spent in France by Obiang, Congo-Brazzaville's President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon.

The charges were brought by Transparency International, an anti-corruption campaign group which alleges several African leaders and their relatives spent state funds from their countries on lavish purchases in France.

In September last year, 11 of the Obiang family's luxury cars were seized in Paris as part of the probe. Police in February searched the Obiang residence and removed vanloads of possessions.

At the time, Obiang lawyer Olivier Pardo said the property "belongs to the state of Equatorial Guinea not to the presidency."

Equatorial Guinea's main opposition parties have accused the veteran president of lining up his son to succeed him.

bbm-rb/clo/am/boc

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