04(Tampa, May 22, 2015) The government of Equatorial Guinea should immediately release Mr. Roberto Berardi, a business associate of President Obiang’s eldest son and Equatorial Guinea’s second vice-president, Teodoro (Teodorín) Nguema Obiang—after he completed an unjust 28-month prison sentence.
On May 19, when his lawyer anticipated Mr. Berardi’s release, Equatoguinean judicial authorities instead announced that his client’s sentence would run until July 7. The decision disregarded an earlier judgement that had clearly stated that Mr. Berardi would be credited for the six-week period he spent in police custody and house arrest prior to being officially charged, tried and sentenced. In its May 19 decision, the court recognized that the police should have brought him before the court within the 72 hours prescribed by national law, and therefore his pre-trial detention had been illegal but nevertheless decided to further prolong his imprisonment.
"The Equatoguinean authorities’ outrageous decision to keep Mr. Berardi in prison violates his right to personal liberty and security," said Tutu Alicante, EG Justice's Executive Director, "This manipulation clearly exposes the lack of independence of the judiciary in Equatorial Guinea. There is no legal basis for Mr. Berardi’s continued imprisonment."
In late May 2013 Roberto Berardi was provisionally charged, and in July 16, 2013 he was formally charged, tried and convicted of theft of company’s property and fraud in a sham trial where reportedly no evidence was presented against him and his accuser was not present. He was sentenced to two years and four months in prison. He was also ordered to repay the company the money he had allegedly stolen, as well as others costs and compensation totaling approximately $2 million USD plus 3% on damages.
During his imprisonment Roberto Berardi has held incommunicado intermittently and for long periods. He was beaten on several occasions, first at the police station, immediately following his arrest, and subsequently by prison guards in Bata, who tortured him. EG Justice has received a hand-written testimony of Roberto Berardi’s torture and ill-treatment that were provided by lawyer.
In addition to the physical torture, condemned in a previous statement by EG Justice and Human Rights Watch, Roberto Berardi was held in prolonged solitary confinement on many occasions, which is considered a form of torture under international human rights law. He also endured prison conditions which amounted to cruel and inhumane treatment such as being held in an overheated cell with poor or no ventilation and being provided with inadequate food and water. He was also repeatedly denied medical treatment.
In June 2014, Roberto Berardi became seriously ill. Following international pressure on the Equatoguinean government, he was taken to a hospital for treatment on two occasions in July. However, on both occasions, after a few days in the hospital and against medical advice, Mr. Berardi was taken back to prison before fully recovering. Furthermore, once back in prison he was denied medicines for a time.
“Roberto Berardi’s torture and unjust imprisonment in appalling conditions has seriously affected his health,” Said Tutu Alicante. “Prolonging his detention for a further six weeks is not only cruel, but illegal.”
According to EG Justice, the prolongation of Mr. Berardi’s prison term violates Equatorial Guinea law and contravenes Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Equatorial Guinea is a party.
For more information, please contact:
In Tampa, for EG Justice, Tutu Alicante (English, Spanish): +1-615-479-0207 (mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @TutuAlicante, @EGJustice
EG Justice has reasons to believe that Roberto Berardi’s imprisonment was politically motivated, instigated to pre-empt the possibility of his being called as a witness against his partner by the US Department of Justice, which launched two asset forfeiture cases against Teodorin’s US-based properties. Documents obtained in the DOJ investigation suggested that Teordorín Nguema used an Eloba account to transfer nearly US $1 million into the US, which he used to pay for several purchases there.
In December 2012 Roberto Berardi learned, ostensibly as a result of the US investigation, that Teodoring transferred company funds to a bank in the USA in Berardi’s name and without his knowledge. Roberto Berardi raised the matter with him, and less than a month later, on January 19, 2013, Roberto Berardi was arrested at his home in Bata, by four police officers in civilian clothes and without a warrant. The Officers ordered him to accompany them to the police station to be questioned, reportedly following Teodorin’s direct orders.
Roberto Berardi was taken to the Bata Central Police Station where he was held incommunicado and without charges for three weeks, well in excess of the 72 hours allowed by Equatorial Guinea’s law. During that time he was informed that in December 2012 his powerful business partner had accused him of theft of company assets but was not given details. He was interrogated and beaten several times, always late at night. According to his own statement, no theft was mentioned during the interrogations but the police authorities told him they had to look into the company's account to ensure that no money was missing. It was not until February 11, 2013 that he was brought before a judge, who ordered Mr. Berardi's house arrest.
Roberto Berardi returned to court on February 27, 2013, and learned then that his partner had accused him of stealing 1 billion franc CFA (about US $1.7 million) from their company, Eloba Construcción. However, Roberto Berardi was not charged with any offence and the judge only continued Roberto Berardi’s house arrest under guard. The following day, however, the Chief of Police went to Mr Berardi’s house and, without a court order, took him to the police station where he was held incommunicado for about a week, before being transferred to the Bata prison (Cárcel Pública) where he remained incommunicado.
See also Joint Statement released with Human Rights Watch.