Vice-President Teodoro Nguema Obiang’s Superyacht and Homes Seized in South Africa

The Republic of Equatorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa, is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. With an estimated population of 1.5 million, majority languishing in abject poverty and yet the country’s top officials are very extravagant.

Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of the president, is one classical example of a top politician who owns properties abroad. He has often drawn criticisms both in the local and foreign media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure across the country. Down the years, Equatorial Guinea has experienced little modernization and the economy largely not diversified.

As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

In September 2021, the British Broadcasting Corporation, quoting an official said in a statement, reported that “Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption.” Teodorin Nguema  has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa.

He was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the United States authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He, however, denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the United States and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organization for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said. The United Nations was to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity was to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

In February 2023, Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue re-appeared in the media. Agence France Press (AFP), quoting his lawyer, reported that two homes and a superyacht belonging to Equatorial Guinea’s vice president have been seized in South Africa after a local businessman sued for unlawful arrest and torture.

A high court ordered the seizure of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue’s properties, along with his superyacht docked in Cape Town. The orders arose from a lawsuit by South African businessman Daniel Janse van Rensburg. He said he had been unlawfully detained and tortured for 491 days in a notorious Equatorial Guinea jail when a business deal went sour in 2013, his lawyer told AFP.

“We attached (seized) two houses… in Cape Town in a formal application two weeks ago and the superyacht,” lawyer Errol Eldson, told AFP. An application to auction the assets has been filed.

A Cape Town high court in 2021 ordered Obiang – the son of the iron-fisted President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo – to pay Janse van Rensburg around 40 million rand ($2.2 million) in damages. The lawyer said his client had been hired by an Equatorial Guinea politician, Gabriel Angabi, “to set up an airline” in the oil-rich but impoverished country.

After nearly two years of setting up the airline and “everything in place and aircrafts were ready to start flying,” the businessman was called by Angabi for what he assumed would be the airline launch, according to Eldson.

“When he got there, Angabi said ‘we don’t want to do this anymore, we want our money back’,” said the lawyer. Having spent all the money on the project, Janse van Rensburg failed to refund Angabi, who is allegedly related to the first family. “He picked up the phone to vice president Obiang and within 10 minutes the rapid force intervention was there… they picked Daniel up and threw him into Black Beach prison.”

In his memoir published in September, Janse Van Rensburg wrote “what was supposed to be a short business trip to Equatorial Guinea turned into a journey to the depths of hell.” Obiang’s furniture from his two residences in Cape Town’s affluent suburbs have already been auctioned.

Obiang’s father, 80-year-old father is the longest-serving head of state alive today, excluding monarchs. He seized power in August 1979, toppling his uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, who was then executed by firing squad. Firmly suppressing dissent and surviving a string of attempted coups, he has remained at the helm of the oil-rich central African state ever since. He has long been considered to be grooming his son, usually called Teodorin, to be his successor.

However, the scion’s image has been stained by a playboy reputation and scandals abroad over assets suspected to have been acquired illegally. France, Britain and the United States have ordered him to forfeit millions of dollars in assets, from mansions to luxury cars, while France also handed him a three-year suspended sentence and a fine of 30 million euros. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and his Vice-President Teodoro Nguema have long been accused of seeing oil-rich Equatorial Guinea as their personal fiefdom, and of abusing its wealth and resources.

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.