By Staff Reporter
The son of the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea has agreed to sell $30m worth of assets, including a Malibu mansion, a Ferrari and part of his collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia, to settle an anti-corruption case in the US.
In what is the first case of its kind in the US targeting the family of a sitting head of state, the US Department of Justice late on Friday announced a deal with Teodoro Nguema Obiang, eldest son of Teodoro Obiang, who has ruled Equatorial Guinea since he came to power 35 years ago through a coup.
While the settlement is half what the US initially sought, the details are highly embarrassing for the president and his son, known as Teodorín and his country’s vice-president. In a statement Leslie Caldwell, US assistant attorney-general, outlined the “relentless embezzlement and extortion” that allowed Teodorín to “shamelessly” loot his country to “support his lavish lifestyle”.
“After raking in millions in bribes and kickbacks, Nguema Obiang embarked on a corruption-fuelled spending spree in the US,” she said.
Driven by oil and natural gas production, Equatorial Guinea boasts the highest level of per capita income in sub-Saharan Africa, at $22,300 per year, roughly four times more than South Africa. But three-quarters of the population live below the poverty line, according to estimates from the International Monetary Fund.
Foreign diplomats in Malabo, the capital, believe Mr Obiang has groomed his eldest son to one day replace him. The Obiang family and its clan controls all the levers of political power and business in the country. Teodorín is in charge of national security, the president’s youngest son, Gabriel Mbaga Obiang, runs the oil ministry and the first lady’s brother is head of the state oil company.
The DoJ said court documents showed that while Teodorín received a salary of less than $100,000 a year, he used his influence in government to amass more than $300m worth of assets.
Teodorín said his assets were acquired with “funds earned in accordance with the laws” of Equatorial Guinea and “through business dealings inside and outside” his country.
He decided to settle, however, because “the case had become a significant distraction from my official responsibilities and an unnecessary irritant in the relationship between Equatorial Guinea and the US”.
The government of Equatorial Guinea welcomed the settlement.
Although Teodorín will be forced to sell some assets, he will retain others, including a private jet. US authorities initially sought assets worth about $70m. The US government will keep $10.3m of the settlement, with the remainder after some expenses are deducted going to a charity “for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea”.
Mr Obiang became the country’s president in 1979 after he deposed his uncle in a bloody coup. He is the longest-serving president in Africa, ahead of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola.