France has issued an arrest warrant for the son of Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema after he refused to be interviewed by magistrates on graft charges, a judicial source said Friday.
Magistrates want to speak to Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue about allegations of money laundering and embezzlement, but he declined to be interviewed, claiming immunity as Equatorial Guinea's vice president.
Since 2010 French judges have been probing allegations of corruption under President Obiang, Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso, and Omar Bongo, the late president of Gabon.
Investigating magistrates Roger Le Loire and Rene Grouman issued the warrant on Thursday, four months after beginning proceedings and after Obiang refused a second summons for questioning.
The charges were brought by Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption campaign group which alleges the leaders and their relatives spent state funds from their countries on lavish purchases in France.
TI alleges Obiang owned more than four million euros worth of vehicles in France, while altogether the three leaders had accumulated French assets worth 160 million euros ($210 million).
Obiang's son is agriculture minister and deputy head of mission to UN cultural agency UNESCO, which is based in Paris. As part of that role he has diplomatic immunity.
"Mr Obiang enjoys immunity as vice president of Equatorial Guinea and so could not come in in response to the summons for questioning," his lawyer Emmanuel Marsigny told AFP, saying he had not been informed of the warrant.
"Such an arrest warrant is null and void because of Mr Obiang's status and is a non-event," he added.
Lawyers for Equatorial Guinea, Isabelle Thomas-Werner and Olivier Pardo, said in a statement that the warrant was "an intolerable attack on international public order and on relations between sovereign states."
They called on the French government to "without delay remind all the authorities of these principles, notably the judicial authority, and by so doing put an end to the trouble that this has caused to international public order."
TI France's William Bourdon said the warrant was an important step.
"Issuing an arrest warrant against a serving politician is an important judicial step. But it's too early to say what will happen with the procedure because there are so many obstacles," Bourdon said in a statement.
In April, French prosecutors called for an international warrant for Teodorin Obiang's arrest to face questioning in the investigation. They have also turned their attention to Equatorial Guinean businessmen living in Spain.
In September last year, 11 of the family's luxury cars were seized in Paris as part of the probe. Police in February searched an Obiang residence in an upmarket Paris district, removing vanloads of possessions.
Obiang has ruled Equatorial Guinea with an iron grip since seizing power in a 1979 coup d'etat, making him the continent's longest-serving head of state.
His country is sub-Saharan Africa's third biggest oil exporter but its people live in grinding poverty.
Equatorial Guinea's main opposition parties have accused the veteran president of lining up his son to succeed him.