Inside a $500 Million Spending Spree by a Dictator’s Son

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Three quarters of the people in Equatorial Guinea do not have internet access, but Teodoro Obiang Mangue is not one of them.
The vice president of the African nation - the son of the current president - delights his 116,000 Instagram followers with pictures of his soaring lifestyle: a ride in a water jet pack, a joyride in an F1 racing car, a trip to the carnival. He reportedly bought himself a $ 100 million mansion in Paris, a $ 38 million jet, Ferraris, Aston Martins, and a variety of Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a "$ 275,000 crystal-covered glove that Jackson put on his 'Bad' tour wore ".
Anti-corruption investigators say his wasteful spending was financed with government funds - and they must stop. This week the UK government sanctioned Obiang on rampant transplant allegations on allegations that he had falsely spent over $ 500 million since he became government minister in 1998. As part of the sanctions, Obiang's property will be frozen and he will be banned from entering the UK
"The measures we have taken today are directed against people who have filled their own pockets at the expense of their citizens," Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said in a statement. "Corruption robs poorer nations of their wealth, keeps their people trapped in poverty and poisons the well of democracy."
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The government of Equatorial Guinea did not immediately respond to a request for comment, including Obiang in a message on his personal Instagram account, although he previously denied wrongdoing. Online he exudes calm. On Friday morning he posted a pair of photos on his Instagram page, sitting on the edge of a luxury armchair and grinning in a bright crimson blazer.
Obiang's penchant for fancy things started early. He reportedly attended a private high school in Normandy, France, and then took English classes at Pepperdine University, where he drove around in a limousine and hid in a rented apartment in Malibu and the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, according to a 2007 report in the university newspaper . He rarely attended classes, the paper said, and he was eventually asked to leave the program early.
Soon after, Obiang joined the Equatorial Guinean government. It was a family affair; Obiang's father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, took power from his uncle in a coup in 1979 and has ruled continuously ever since.
It was a promising time to get into the family trade as Equatorial Guinea expanded its oil exploration program significantly. "It was one of the poorest countries when oil was discovered in the 1990s, and it was also a country with very little administrative infrastructure," Sarah Saadoun, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Daily Beast. Saadoun says that the newly won wealth quickly flowed into the pockets of the president and his closest circle. "[Younger Obiang] is unique in the shamelessness of the way he spends this money."
Obiang is said to have found other ways to enrich himself. For example, during his tenure as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, he introduced “a large 'revolutionary tax' on wood but insisted that payments be made directly to him or to a company he owned,” it says a 2007 US Department of Justice memo. (Equatorial Guinea has argued that these acts were legal.)
Obiang's official government salary at the time was $ 60,000, the Justice Department reported. However, between April 2005 and the end of 2006, "at least $ 73 million was transferred to the United States." on his behalf and bought a $ 35 million Malibu home and a $ 33.8 million jet.
More legal tumult followed. In 2014, the US government settled allegations of corruption against Obiang and he agreed to forfeit more than $ 30 million in assets. Three years later, a French court found him guilty (in absentia) of embezzlement, sentenced him to three years probation and seized tens of millions of dollars in inventory. A major point of contention was a huge mansion in Paris that Obiang served as a personal residence. The Equatorial Guinean government argued it was a diplomatic outpost, but a United Nations court later dismissed the claim.
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In 2018, the Brazilian government reportedly seized around $ 1.5 million in cash and $ 15 million in watches that Obiang and his delegation brought into the country. (Equatorial Guinea claimed the search was illegal.) Foreigners could bring up to $ 2,400 in cash into Brazil under national law; it wasn't close.
In the UK, sanction limits are reviewed on an ongoing basis, at least every three years. Obiang can also stand up for their removal.
The legal difficulties have shed light on the extreme inequality of wealth in Equatorial Guinea. It is the third richest country in Africa in terms of gross domestic product per capita. At the same time, according to the World Bank, a third of the population lacks basic sanitation.
The challenge for the world's governments is to reuse funds and make sure they are not just siphoned off. When the Swiss government auctioned Obiang's $ 27 million cars in 2019, the most valuable of them, a Koenigsegg One: 1, reportedly found its way back into his collection.
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In this article:
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Equatorial Guinean politician, President of Equatorial Guinea since 1979

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