afrol News, 8 November - "Teodorín", or "small Teodoro", as Equatorial Guinea's Minister of Agriculture and Forestry is called to distinguish him from his equally named father and omnipotent President, has bought his third multi-million dollar mansion abroad. Despite a modest official salary, Teodoro Nguema Obiang was able to pay US$ 35 million for a new home in California.
Teodorín is famed for his playboy and jet set life in the European Mediterranean or America's sunny California, where he has his own record company. The first-borne son of the Equatoguinean President however also has made it into politics, being the much expected hair of ailing President Obiang in a country where his closest family occupies more than half of all government posts.
Today, the 36-year-old Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of Equatorial Guinea hit US headlines as the anti-graft organisation Global Witness released information and documents about his newest investment. Teodorín, the group said, had "bought a new US$ 35 million home in the USA, despite earning only US$ 5,000 a month."
On 27 February, the company Sweetwater Malibu - managed by Teodorín - had purchased "a 16 acre property, comprising a 15,000 square foot house with ocean view, 4-hole golf course, tennis court, and swimming pool," according to property and company records obtained by Global Witness. The property was listed at US$ 35 million, though no sales price was recorded. According to the titling company and the Los Angeles County Assessor, the parties did not want the value made public.
This is not the first time the reasonably earning Equatoguinean playboy politician makes headlines for his investments. In June 2004, afrol News reported that Teodorín had bought a luxury home with ocean view in the Fourth Beach area of Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town municipality officials confirmed the transaction worth rand 23.5 million (more than US$ 3 million) for what they described as "one of the best located properties in one of Africa's most expensive residential areas."
Before this South African transaction, Teodorín was known to have bought a luxury property in the Bel Air residential zone of Los Angeles, California, a place he spent most of his time before being urged to return home to take up ministerial positions. The President's first-borne also has access to several luxury properties in Equatorial Guinea, including in the capital Malabo and in his family's home town Mongomo.
Not only Global Witness holds that the many property investments by Teodorín are unheard of regarding his relatively humble official incomes. The Equatoguinean opposition in particular noted that the President's first-borne had been strategically placed in head of the country forestry sector, Equatorial Guinea's second foreign exchange earner after hydrocarbons and a sector much less scrutinised than the oil sector.
President Obiang, his son Teodorín and other top government and business officials from the ruling so-called Mongomo Clan have for a long time been known to rule the country as if it was their private property. Despite earning around US$3 billion in oil revenues annually, Equatorial Guinea remains one of the poorest and most repressive regimes in the world.
On paper its half-million population enjoys the second highest per capita income in the world - US$ 50,200 - yet the country still ranks at the bottom of the UN Human Development Index. Management of the country's vast oil wealth remains a "state secret" according to President Obiang.
A US Senate report in 2004 revealed that US$ 700 million of Equatorial Guinea's oil revenues were held in accounts at Riggs Bank in Washington, which eventually led to Riggs' demise. After the Riggs scandal, the Equatoguinean government promised more transparent management of public funds, including a pledge to implement the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
However, says Sarah Wykes of Global Witness, "the government has made almost no tangible progress on promised reforms." According her, "US$ 718 million of Equatorial Guinea's oil money is still held offshore, according to the IMF, and 76 percent of the country's recurrent expenditures are still off-budget. EITI has stalled in the face of persistent and serious violations of civil liberties."
Sworn testimony given recently by Teodorín before a South African court sheds further light on a culture of institutionalised corruption. Testifying about the source of his wealth in a commercial case relating to the seizure of other luxury properties, the President's son stated that public officials in Equatorial Guinea were allowed to participate in joint ventures with foreign companies bidding for government contracts and - if successful - receive "a percentage of the total cost of the contract".
Teodorín outlined that this means that "a cabinet minister ends up with a sizeable part of the contract price in his bank account." And therefore, it is all legal.
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