A French court last week convicted Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the vice president of Equatorial Guinea and son of the president, of embezzling public money and spending it on himself.
The judge confiscated all of Obiang’s assets in France, fined him €30 million ($35 million), and gave him a suspended three-year prison sentence.
The court said Obiang used the stolen money to buy a 20-room apartment in Paris worth about €80 million ($93 million), a fleet of luxury cars, and high-end art.
Obiang’s government salary was less than $100,000 a year.
In 2014, the U.S. DOJ brought a forfeiture action against Obiang under the Kleptocracy Initiative.
In a settlement, Obiang was forced to sell a $30 million mansion in Malibu, California and donate the money to a charity to help people in Equatorial Guinea.
He also forfeited a Ferrari and Michael Jackson memorabilia, and another $10.3 million in cash. The DOJ said the assets were “the proceeds of corruption.”
Despite the country’s oil wealth, 70 percent of Equatorial Guinea’s one million people are poor. Nearly half lack access to clean water. In 2016, 42 percent of the kids weren’t registered in primary school.
Meanwhile, Obiang is known as the “Playboy of Instagram” for showing off his wealth on social media.
The French investigation of Obiang started in 2010 after Transparency International France and Association Sherpa filed a complaint.
Obiang — who was promoted from minister of agriculture and forestry to vice president after the French investigation started — claimed immunity from prosecution. But the judge in Paris ruled that the trial should go ahead.
Obiang wasn’t in France during the trial.
Here’s a clip from the Economist about Obiang and his Instagram lifestyle.
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog.
Among the weak excuses I have heard for corruption is that the poor government employees aren’t paid enough, and just steal to get by. But this case shows the real face of corruption. Not only do these officials steal, but they don’t even invest the stolen proceeds in their own countries! There is no good excuse or justification for these thieves. As I read one young African put it, “evil should be called by its name.” People like this are evil and should be called to account. In a country where 70% of the people are poor, we should not stand by and accept such criminal conduct. I hope that someday soon we will see courts not in France or the US, but in Africa start to hold kleptocrats to account.
Joe Murphy, CCEP
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