Teddy Obiang enjoys the finer things in life. That much is clear from the growing list of assets that authorities on three continents have seized from him over the better part of a decade – including luxury vehicles, mansions and expensive watches.
None of that has stopped Obiang, the son of a West African dictator, from showcasing his latest prized possessions and adventurous exploits on Instagram.
In a July 11 post, two men tend to him as he lounges at a clothing store, tea service within reach. A week later, he’s seen snorkeling in brilliant turquoise waters. An Aug. 29 post shows him waving to the camera from a boat off the Capri coast.
Earlier this month – not long after Swiss authorities wrapped up a years-long corruption probe with the auction of more than two dozen supercars that once belonged to him – Obiang, 51, added photos of himself sitting on the hood of a souped-up Jeep, parked beside a helicopter emblazoned with the flag of Equatorial Guinea.
Obiang, first vice president of the oil-rich African nation and son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, faced corruption investigations in three countries over the past decade and denied wrongdoing in each case.
Human Rights Watch, which alleged in a report that corruption by senior government officials has siphoned money from social programs in Equatorial Guinea, said two superyachts at the younger Obiang’s disposal are worth a combined $250 million. The 250-foot “Ebony Shine” and 300-foot “Ice” recently were located off the Italian Riviera, data compiled by Bloomberg show. While Equatorial Guinea told a Swiss court that the two boats are state property, VesselsValue, a provider of data on the global maritime market, said the entities that own the boats are controlled by Obiang.
“Governments don’t like him but they don’t want to make too much of an enemy of Equatorial Guinea,” said Ken Hurwitz, senior counsel for the Open Society Justice Initiative, which is backed by billionaire George Soros and represents individuals and groups worldwide in court cases concerning economic justice. “Most of the oil is still controlled by American companies.”
In 2014, Obiang reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, agreeing to relinquish more than $30 million of assets, including a hilltop mansion in Malibu, California.
France landed a bigger blow in 2017, when Obiang was convicted in absentia of embezzlement. A Paris court ordered more than 100 million euros ($110 million) of assets to be seized, including a mansion near the Champs-Elysees. He avoided jail time as the court handed down a 3-year suspended sentence. His lawyers argued he had diplomatic immunity and that the property served as Equatorial Guinea’s embassy.
Last year, Brazilian authorities stopped Obiang at an airport, reportedly seizing 20 watches worth $15 million and more than $1.4 million in cash. They ultimately returned $10,000, the maximum amount of cash that can be brought into Brazil undeclared. The secretary of Equatorial Guinea’s embassy in Brazil said the watches were for personal use and the cash was to be used on a subsequent trip to Singapore, Globo.com reported.
And then the Swiss auctioned off the supercars on Sept. 30 for $27 million as part of a settlement. They include a Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce Phantom, Lamborghini Veneno and Koenigsegg One, court and auction records show. Equatorial Guinea had argued that the cars belonged to a state-owned company.
The nation’s embassy in Washington didn’t reply to phone messages or an invitation to comment through the government’s official web page. Additional attempts to reach Obiang for comment via Instagram and through Equatorial Guinea’s information minister were unsuccessful. Kevin Fisher, a California lawyer who represents him in a lawsuit over a subsequent sale of the Malibu property, declined to comment.
Since the discovery of oil in 1996, Equatorial Guinea’s gross domestic product has surged more than 5,000%, making the 28,000-square-mile nation Africa’s third-richest per capita. The Obiangs have said they’re using the mineral wealth to improve the lives of Equatoguineans.
The distribution of those oil riches, however, is uneven. More than half of children under 5 years old lack access to adequate food, and about 9% of youngsters in that age group die, Unicef said in a 2017 report. The average life expectancy in Equatorial Guinea is just 58, compared with 66 in neighboring Gabon, according to the World Bank.
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,” then-U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in a statement announcing the 2014 settlement.
He did manage to keep a Gulfstream jet, which is targeted for seizure if it ever returns to the U.S., and $1 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a sequin-encrusted glove, according to the statement.
Equatorial Guinea, which sought a $700 million loan from the International Monetary Fund to bolster its currency, reached a three-year financial agreement with the IMF after meetings last week in Washington.
The IMF has “supported the authorities’ efforts to devise a national strategy to improve governance and fight corruption through the preparation of a report on governance,” a spokeswoman for the fund said in an emailed statement.
Sarah Saadoun, a corruption researcher at Human Rights Watch, suggested another way for the country to raise money.
“If they just sold those two yachts, they’d have a third of their loan request,” she said. Bloomberg