Equatorial Guinea: The president’s playboys

South Africa was shocked by the lavish lifestyles of Robert Mugabe’s two sons when details began to emerge earlier this year: the flashy apartment in Sandton, Africa’s richest suburb; the designer threads; the endless stream of top-end champagne. Even as Zimbabwe starved, its first family partied.

But they weren’t partying hard enough — at least not by the standards of another presidential playboy.

Teodorin Obiang is the son and heir to the president of Equatorial Guinea — Africa’s longest-serving president (38 years and counting). He is also the country’s vice-president, waiting to inherit the throne from his ageing father.

While he waits, the 48-year-old Obiang Jr has been living a life of luxury, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on fast cars, fancy houses and all the other accoutrements of the ultrarich.

He owns a 76m luxury yacht, the Ebony Shine, which was impounded by Dutch authorities in December 2016. No matter: Obiang Jr owns a second luxury yacht, the Ebony Ice, which is even longer. The pair together are worth $250-million.

To put this in perspective: about three-quarters of the population of Equatorial Guinea lives below the poverty line of $1.90 per day.

But Obiang Jr’s taste for the high life may finally be catching up with him. Suspicion about the source of his wealth has prompted investigations in at least four different countries, as well as a criminal trial in France. Earlier this week, the French court returned its verdict, finding him guilty of corruption and money laundering. The court handed down a suspended sentence of three years in jail and a €30-million fine, and seized more than $100-million in assets.

“This verdict against Teodorin Obiang is further proof that rampant government corruption in Equatorial Guinea has robbed its people of their country’s oil wealth,” said Sarah Saadoun, business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The French government should repatriate the money ensuring it goes to key services where it should have been spent.”

The list of assets confiscated from Obiang Jr in France and elsewhere in the world illustrate the extraordinary scale of his spending.

In France, authorities seized a 101-room mansion in Paris, complete with its own private club and gold-plated bathrooms; a collection of supercars; and original paintings by Degas and Renoir.

In Switzerland, another collection of supercars was impounded, this time including some of the world’s most rare and expensive vehicles, such as the Bugatti Veyron (worth $2-million) and the Koenigsegg One (worth $2.8-million, and one of just seven ever produced). In the Netherlands, the yacht was taken, and in the United States Obiang Jr reached a settlement with the justice department in which he handed over more than $30-million in assets, including a Malibu mansion and various items of Michael Jackson memorabilia.

“Through relentless embezzlement and extortion, Vice-President [Teodorin] Obiang shamelessly looted his government and shook down businesses in his country to support his lavish lifestyle, while many of his fellow citizens lived in extreme poverty,” said US assistant attorney general Leslie Caldwell.

In Cape Town, the playboy president’s son owns two multimillion-rand properties. One, a cottage in Clifton, was attached by the high court earlier this month in preparation for a civil claim.

Obiang Jr is being sued by Daniel Janse van Rensburg, a South African citizen who was imprisoned for 423 days in Black Beach, a notorious prison in Equatorial Guinea, where he claims he was tortured and humiliated. Janse van Rensburg is seeking R75-million in damages.

“The verdict in France is disappointing insofar as he only got a suspended sentence and the fine was suspended as well, although they did confiscate all his assets. [But] I think it sent a message loud and clear to other dictators in Africa and elsewhere that they’re not going to plunder state resources with immunity,” Janse van Rensburg’s lawyer, Errol Elsdon, told the Mail & Guardian.

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Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Africa Editor for @MailandGuardian. Also @ISSAfrica.

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