Teodoro Nguema Obiang, nicknamed Teodorín, is the darling of the tabloid’s front page: having multiple mansions over the world, dozens of luxury cars, a Tron-like motorcycle, dating a Danish model or an American rapper, hanging out with celebrities in a yacht, showing off his wealth. While his glamorous life attracts the attention, it is only when the international justice seized his toys that the attention switched from his luxurious lifestyle to the source of its income; he and his family have been living on Equatoguinean’s poverty for decades. This story should not be about Teodorín. It should be about any Equatoguinean girl who is denied an education while Teodorin enriches himself. The story that needs to be told here is the one that is obliterated by a greedy family.
Teodorín was born in 1968. He is the son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and his first wife.
Teodorín cumulates titles. He has been the vice-president since 2016, while being in charge of the army and security. Before that, he has been second vice president (2012-2016), minister of agriculture and was promoted to the rank of Major-General of the Army without many military credentials.
On paper, Teodorín earns US$ 80,000 per year, not really enough to finance the lavish life exhibited on his instagram account.
While the golden boy does not hide his wealth, it is through court proceedings of several international cases that we can envision the extent of the loot.
In 2014 the US Department of Justice indicated that the then second vice-president of Equatorial Guinea amassed assets worth US$ 300 million. These included Michael Jackson memorabilia (including the diamond-covered gloves and socks), luxury cars, a Mansion in Malibu and a private jet. Nevertheless, the settlement signed with Teodoro Nguema Obiang, had to relinquish US$ 30 million.
Through relentless embezzlement and extortion, Vice President Nguema 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.Assistant Attorney General, US Department
In France, Nguema Obiang was found guilty in 2017 of money laundering and other corrupt practices with a suspended 3-year jail sentence and US$ 35 million fine. During the process assets worth €174 million were seized from him, according to court documents. This included luxury cars. During the trial, more details were revealed on his lavish spending: a €587,000 bill over a five-year period at the Crillon hotel, spending of €18.3 million in two days at Christie’s auction house, along with buying Cartier, Piaget and Vacheron watches for more than €700,000. Officials found more than 60 pairs of handmade and luxury brand shoes at his mansion on the exclusive Avenue Foch in Paris. Obiang paid €25 million for the 4,500-square meter property. This mansion of more than 100 rooms included a hairdresser, a private night club.
In 2017, in a money laundering and mismanagement of public funds probe, a Swiss court ordered the freezing of a USD 120 million worth yacht. The Swiss court settled with the Nguema Obiang allowing him to recover the yacht in exchange of relinquishing more than 25 luxury cars that were publicly auctioned in Geneva in September 2019, which raised more than USD 27 million. They included a Lamborghini Veneno Roadster, one of only nine such versions produced, that has been driven only 325 kilometres (201 miles) and a Ferrari “LaFerrari” featuring Formula 1 and GT inspiration.
In 2018, in Brazil, the federal police seized cash money and a collection of luxury watches worth USD 16 million from Nguema Obiang. The Vice President of Equatorial Guinea did not declare to customs that he was transporting luxury goods and cash money that required clearance from Brazilian customs service. Nguema Obiang was also fined US$ 88,000 for illegal works when renovating his brand-new penthouse apartment in Sao Paulo which value is not publicly known.
In 2019, a South African judge ordered the auction of his assets worth US$ 2.2 million. A businessman accused Nguema Obiang of wrongful detention after a business deal went wrong in Malabo. The claim was of 75 million Rands (USD 5 million) and his luxury apartment was seized due to this claim.
All in all, more than USD 700 million worth of assets were siphoned out of Equatorial Guinea by the vice president of the country to acquire luxury goods, expensive cars and mansions, while two-thirds of the citizens of Equatorial Guinea live in poverty. USD 700 million represents one-third of the annual budget of Equatorial Guinea for 2017 and could fund the education system of the country for almost 8 years, or almost a full decade of the national health budget.
While all the attention goes to the family’s golden boy, he is just the tip of the iceberg in a deeply corrupt system that involves his family and several accomplices.
First and foremost, there is a family ruling a country. Teodoro Obiang, the father, overthrew his uncle on 3 August 1979 through a bloody coup and has been ruling the country with an iron fist since. He was elected for a 5th time in 2016 with 93.5% of the votes, which made him the world’s second-longest-serving president with an estimated fortune of US$ 600 million
Most of this fortune has been amassed thanks to the oil produced in the country since the mid-’90s. Oil companies did not flinch when asked to pay the president and his family in their personal bank accounts, as revealed by the US investigators. In addition, companies owned by the ruling family have tight control over key areas of the economy.
Teodorin is seen as his father’s potential successor, and the only person who could challenge him would be his step-brother and oil minister for years, Gabriel Mbega Obiang. Internal fighting in a ruling elite that controls most of the key pillars of the economy, such as the national oil companies, go against the interests of a gagged population.
But, then, there are enablers, who helped the Obiang family to mismanage the country’s resources and then to hide the profits abroad.
US Senate said loud and clear that multinationals, bankers and very lucrative brokers in Europe or the USA do have a shared responsibility in the draining of the country’s resources. High-level officials of the country are suspected to be involved in similar cases, but they go unnoticed. The Senate Committee report on the Riggs Bank scandal in 2014 recommended the oil companies to disclose all payments made to the leader and his family in Equatorial Guinea. Another report from 2017 indicated: “suspected funds were wired to the US via Wachovia or Citibank”, two renowned American banks. The French Judge that convicted “Teodorin” in 2017 strongly criticized the French bank Societe Generale and the Bank of France for enabling him to channel public money into French accounts.
And while there is an international network profiteering from the abuses of the first family, Equatoguineans live in dire poverty.
More than US$ 700 million are sitting abroad in capitals around the world. But a girl born in Equatorial Guinea today can easily become of of the 9% of newborn kids dying before the age of 5, of the highest world rates. If this girl survives, only 1 out of the 4 schools she may attend will have access to clean and drinking water.
Once a grown-up, if this student happens to get pregnant while in school, the government would not allow her to attend school, condemning her to live in a disadvantaged situation despite having to care for a child. While 9 out of 10 young kids are considered literate, it is likely that the quality of the education will be so poor that a pupil will not be able to access the university; less than 15% of students make it to the university level. If despite all adversity she succeeds in having a low-level job in the public administration, her salary will not reach USD 200 per month.
After all this struggle an Equatoguinean woman should be thankful to reach the age of 57, the female life expectancy rate. And if she is unhappy with her situation and wants to file a complaint because she feels discriminated against and wants to denounce such injustices, she may find herself behind bars, tortured or her relatives could be harassed. Equatorial Guinea has an appalling human rights record, with extrajudicial killings, repression of freedom of expression or torture as reported by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the American Bar Association.
This is the story that is not told when the headlines are exposing the latest on Teodorin’s life. Despite the surge of international condemnations, Equatoguineans are still waiting for drinking water, quality education or other basic needs to be fulfilled.
Teodorin is not one of the ¾ of Equatoguineans living in dire poverty. But every time he posts his newest luxury item or fancy trip on social media, it is his people who pay for it. And there are about 92,000 followers who like it.
Equatorial Guinea 21 September 2020
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