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French anti-corruption lawyer targeted by an arrest warrant in Equatorial Guinea

February 25th, 2019

M. William Bourdon is a French lawyer specialized in criminal law, including business criminal law, and in communication law. He worked at lot defending human rights; he founded Sherpa in 2001 after having served between 1994 and 2000 as Secretary General of the International Federation of Human Rights.

In 2008, he represented Transparency International in the “ill-gotten wealth case” against Equatorial Guinea’s President’s eldest son, Teodorin Obiang Nguema, who was then Minister of Forests. M. Obiang Nguema was accused of money laundering for having bought € 100 M worth of luxury goods in France. During the trial, M. Obiang Nguema was appointed Vice-President of Equatorial Guinea. He was condemned in 2017.

On January 23rd 2019, M. Bourdon was targeted by an arrest warrant issued by the Malabo Court, alongside with M. Daniel Lebègue, former president of Transparency International. Some of the persons targeted by the warrant are already detained incommunicado; HRW even evokes credible evidence that two of them were killed in prison.

The warrant relies on charges of money laundering and financing of terrorism. It is considered by 10 anti-corruption organizations[1] as retaliation against persons who contributed to M. Obiang Nguema’s conviction.

At the end of January, the president of CORED (Coalition for the restoration of a democratic state in Equatorial Guinea) explained to French radio RFI that the persons targeted by this warrant had no chance to find attorneys likely to defend them in Malabo: he explained that Equatoguinean lawyers who talk about politics risk either “being killed or being imprisoned”.

The OIAD calls for the utmost vigilance regarding the charges against M. bourdon, and urges the authorities of Equatorial Guinea to stop any manipulation of justice for the purpose of retaliation against a lawyer who has legitimately exercised his profession.

According to United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the authorities must ensure that lawyers “are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” and that they shall “not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics” – principle n° 16 a) and c).

Regarding the persons who are already detained, the OIAD calls on the authorities of Equatorial Guinea to respect United Nations’ Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners: these persons “shall retain the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and (…) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” (principle n° 5), to which Equatorial Guinea adhered in 1987.

[1] These organizations are Human Rights Watch, EG justice, Sherpa, Amnesty International, the Platform for the Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), Corruption Watch UK, Rights and Accountability in Development, TRIAL International, the International federation of Human Rights, and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) as a member of the Observatory for the protection of human rights defenders.

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