Teodoro Obiang: Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president fined by French Court

Teodoro Obiang otherwise known as Teodorin who is notorious for his ‘playboy’ lifestyle was found guilty, convicted and fined last month by an appeal court in France for using public money to fund his lavish lifestyle.

Teodorin is the Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president and at the same time, the son of the country’s current president, who is Africa’s longest-serving leader.

Obiang could be say to be an opportunist as he was a minister of agriculture and forestry before he was elevated to vice president by his father who has been ruling their “oil-rich” country for 40 years – and impliedly; in position that could ease his way to take over the mantle of leadership someday.

This “oil-rich” country is Africa’s only Spanish-speaking nation, rated in the continent as the third-biggest oil producer. Perhaps, this open vault for corruption, embezzlement, repressive laws and rights abuses… Leading the country to ironical stance which made more than half of its 1.2 million populations to be living below poverty line, Aljazeerah reveals.

The root of their administration is not only tainted but painted with coup; extra-judicial killings; lawlessness in law and power intoxication as the father of the convict overthrew his own Uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema in a bloody coup sometime in August 1979 making him the president thereafter and later appointing his son as vice president. Thus, this is where the story begins…

A Playboy

Due to his flamboyant lifestyles on his social media handles which were filled with pictures of expensive cars, gold-plated houses, expensive suits among others, the case was brought before the French courts after two anti-corruption NGOs of Transparency International and one similar non-government organisation, called Sherpa.

Obiang, aged 51 years old is fond of expensive assets. Many reports online revealed how he owned fast, expensive cars and how he is fond of Michael Jackson memorabilia. He allegedly owns “a six-storey, 107 million-euro ($116.7m) mansion in an upscale part of Paris, complete with a hammam, a disco and gold-plated taps.”

Prior to his conviction, many of his property have been auctioned off, including collection of luxury cars seized by authorities, later auctioned by Switzerland. Prosecution supporting their locus standi, revealed “fleet of Bugattis, Lamborghinis, Bentleys, Ferraris, a Rolls-Royce Phantom among other cars as evidence.”

According to Aljazeerah news, he was reported to have mangled and milked his country’s milk as he laundered huge sum of money. The “prosecutors estimate he laundered 150 million euros ($163.6m) in misappropriate funds in France.

In reference to a publication published on one.org by Lauren Pfeifer titled, “9 insane things Teodorin Obiang spent his allegedly emblezzed money on”, the analysis therein exposed how Obiang spent and has been spending money lavishly. Despite the fact that he held a modest government post in Equatorial Guinea that entitled him an estimated US$80,000 a year, he was reported to have managed through corruption and money laundering, make some insane purchases — all while three-fourths of Equatorial Guinea’s population reportedly lived on less than US$1.25 a day.

From Michael Jackson Memorabilia tuning US$3.2 million to a 16th century gold vermeil elephant once owned by Yves Saint Laurent, reportedly bought for US$467,000. Also on record is the US$700,000 300-foot yacht he reportedly rented while dating rap star Eve plus two Bugatti Veyron supercars worthily of US$1 million each. So the list goes. As revealed, the “money spent on these two cars alone is enough to vaccinate more than half of Equatorial Guinea’s children against life-threatening diseases.”

More so, the list includes a private Gulfstream jet, worthy of US$38.5 million to 300 bottles of Chateau Petrus, which reportedly cost €2.1 million to mansions in Malibu, California valued around US$150 million – which were later sized though. He yet bought art collection featuring works estimated more than US$30 million and yet he was alleged to be operating more than 200 banks account.

As exposed on one.org, he usually purchase, using anonymous shell companies– which are secretive companies that sheath the “identities of their real owners, making it difficult, if not impossible, for legal authorities to follow the money and uncover the crimes those companies are used to commit.” But the question is, is this not turning to stereotypes at the instance of African leaders?

Not bordered

Obiang has since replied his critics, even though his assets were confiscated and he was fined 30 million euros ($32.9m) for embezzling public funds, and his three years jail term was suspended.

Obiang never attended his trial just as he was not in court for the ruling, perhaps because of his dignity – as he claimed through his lawyer, denying the charges and maintaining that his wealth had come from legitimate sources.

In fact, reports emerged online that his lawyers previously accused France of “meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state”.

Obiang also boasted that some of his confiscated assets are protected under international law.

Oil-rich country, poverty-stricken citizens

One can assert that assets accumulated flamboyantly by Obiang could also be one of the items fuelling poverty in Equatorial Guinea. Let think of social projects yearning for attention in Equatorial Guinea and let think of Obiang lavish spending arresting crook and cranny of Africa nations. Where is the justification?

Little need to be wondered as reports confirmed that his conviction was premised on laundering charges – “relating to the embezzlement of public funds, misuse of corporate assets and breach of trust.”

Crispen Manjonjo in a publication on The Indepedent Zimbabwe titled – “Primitive accumulation of wealth: None but ourselves” made a complete analysis of the “like father like son” situation. The father bankrupted his own country: “emptied its coffers and pillaged its resources.” Yet the son, care not spending lavishly around the world!

Equatorial Guinea despite being rated as Africa’s third-biggest oil producer amount to nothing for the citizens as “Transparency International rated Equatorial Guinea 173rd out of 180 countries on its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.”

Despite being slapped by such huge fine, reports emerged that immediately – within minutes after the judgement was pronounced, “adamant” Obiang yet posted his latest motorbike on Instagram. Glaring? This is the effect of “Leaders for Life”.

His glamorous lifestyle has made him popular on social media and his recent saga also has made him to be in the news. His playboy lifestyle also aided anti-corruption campaigners to nose and dug his story – of embezzlement of public funds. Thus, no gain saying that; rife poverty bedevilling Equatorial Guinea is not man-made poverty.

Public fund and trust

The rate of breaching public trust in African nations is no strange. This has in fact accorded stereotypes to the continent and some African nations have been equated with criminality; ignorance and inequality. The real question is – are African leaders not aware that breach of public trust is tantamount of putting their countries to verge of collapse.

No wonder, one of the lawyers of the NGOs – Transparency International which belled the case emphasised that the effect of sanctioned on Obiang would serve as deterrent message to other leaders with the same mind set.

As reported by the The Independent, the lawyer was quoted saying; “It is a strong and powerful signal to those who believe that a culture of impunity is the indispensable means to organize and maintain a system of predation of public resources in Africa or elsewhere.”

Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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