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Son of Equatorial Guinea's president goes on trial for graft in Paris

© AFP file photo

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-01-02

The corruption trial of Teodorin Obiang, the eldest son of Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, opens Monday in Paris. Obiang is accused of amassing millions of dollars through "bribes and kickbacks".

Estimating the wealth of Teodorin Obiang, eldest son of Africa's longest serving leader, is a tricky business but US authorities came up with an eye-popping figure in 2014.

As they forced him to hand over property worth millions of dollars in a settlement, they put his net worth at around $300 million -- built up while earning a state salary of under $100,000 a year.

The fortune was amassed through "bribes and kickbacks", the Justice Department said, as he "shamelessly looted his government and shook down businesses in his country to support his lavish lifestyle."

Lavish barely captures the scale of his consumption and the figure might well be an under-estimate.

New details of his spending are expected to come to light during his corruption trial in France, which opens on Monday.

His Paris property portfolio includes a house worth more than 100 million euros. Rolls-Royces and racing cars, private jets and bespoke suits by the dozen.

Wild parties have forged his reputation as a notorious playboy.

Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea's president, once agreed to receive a French television crew in his suite at the plush Bristol hotel near the Champs-Elysees, his favourite part of Paris.

Talking of his pride in his wine collection, he was also filmed at the wheel of his cars -- ranging from Bentley and Rolls Royce to Ferrari and Lamborghini -- and buying 30 suits at once from costly tailors.

"I'm always looking for something exceptional," he said on camera to a jeweller who was showing him a watch worth 146,000 francs at the time (22,250 euros, $23,250).

Fifteen years later, the constant bachelor with a star profile of dark glasses, trimmed beard and sleek hair is wanted for having amassed a fortune worthy of a modern pharaoh in France.

The cars, lavish Paris home and other valuable items have since been seized by prosecutors in France, while Swiss authorities are also now on his case.

He has already surrendered a holiday home in Malibu to US authorities worth $30 million, as well as some of his beloved Michael Jackson memorabilia and a Ferrari.

Oil and timber wealth

Born in 1969, Obiang was 10 when his father Teodoro Obiang Nguema overthrew his bloodthirsty uncle, the dictator Francisco Macias Nguema, who liked being called "the unique miracle of Equatorial Guinea".

After independence from Spain in 1968, Macias Nguema closed schools and hospitals, dismantled railway lines and banned the wearing of shoes in Equatorial Guinea, a country of densely forested mainland and five offshore volcanic islands in the Gulf of Guinea.

In the 1980s, the new leader's son was enrolled in the select Ecole des Roches in Normandy, northwest France, a school that prides itself on educating the offspring of leaders from all over the world.

Swift to live it up in Paris, Rio and the United States, Obiang was not even 30 when his father appointed him minister of forests in 1997 in his tropical homeland.

In the government post until 2012, Obiang was considered the godfather of the lucrative timber trade, but at the same time oil exports began to bring previously unimaginable wealth.

The size of the economy is estimated by the French treasury to have "multiplied by more than 10" in the first decade of this century.

As a result, the average annual income per person -- 14,000 dollars (38,300 euros) -- is among the highest in Africa, but this figure conceals massive inequality.

Most of the population of some 800,000 people lives below the poverty threshold on less than two dollars a day, according to several economic indicators.

Now the longest-serving African ruler, Teodoro Obiang Nguema made his son vice-president in June just after being re-elected with his usual score of more than 90 percent of votes cast.

Arguing that this status gave him diplomatic immunity, Obiang tried to escape the clutches of French prosecutors by appealing in vain to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Obiang likes to organise year-end concerts gathering renowned African musicians as part of his appeal to youth.

He favours "groove, acid jazz, soul, reggae, above all music that moves," he told French television as he bought 60 CDs on the Champs-Elysees.

He also runs the radio-television channel Asonga, which broadcasts trendy videos between its news bulletins, while he watches over the Association of Sons of Obiang (ASHO), a youth organisation founded to the glory of his father.

(AFP)
 

Date created : 2017-01-02

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