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African dictator son planning to buy 380 million USD yacht, claims Global Witness

Wednesday, March 2nd 2011 - 05:58 UTC
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British designed and a German shipyard has been contracted British designed and a German shipyard has been contracted

The London-based anti-corruption campaign group, Global Witness, said it has evidence that Teodorin Obiang, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry of the tiny West African state of Equatorial Guinea, has plans to order a luxury yacht worth hundreds of millions of dollars from a shipyard in northern Germany.

In a report published today, Feb. 28th, the organization condemned the fact that Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea's notorious president, spends vast amounts of money on personal vanity projects while his country's citizens live in abject poverty.

After learning that Obiang had contracted Kusch Yachts - a shipyard located in the town of Wewelsfleth around sixty kilometers downriver from Hamburg on the river Elbe - to draw up plans for a luxury yacht, Global Witness sent an undercover investigator to the company. The investigator discovered that the design for the yacht, by the British designer Tim Heywood, had already been completed.

The investigator says he was given specific details about the project by some of the company's engineers.

“I was told that the yacht will have around 23 guest rooms, a cinema, a restaurant and bar, a helipad and a swimming pool,” he told Deutsche Welle. The overall cost of the yacht, codenamed Zen, is expected to be around 380 million US dollars, making it the second-most expensive private yacht in the world.

In an email to Global Witness, Kusch Yachts confirmed that Teodorin Obiang is among its customers. When approached by Deutsche Welle, the company's managing director, Mark Dethlefs, declined to comment further: “It is common practice for companies involved in the construction of mega yachts to treat clients with absolute confidentiality,” he said.

It is unclear whether an order for the yacht has been placed yet. However, Global Witness is urging Kusch to repudiate any deal with Obiang and to refuse his money, most of which the group alleges is the result of corruption. To back up its claims, Global Witness is citing a preliminary investigation from 2007, in which the U.S. Justice Department concluded that most of Obiang's assets “have originated from extortion, theft of public funds, or other corrupt conduct.”

Teodorin Obiang's father, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has ruled Equatorial Guinea with an iron fist since he took power in a bloody coup in 1979. His government is frequently named one of the most repressive regimes in the world.

Equatorial Guinea is a steady supplier of oil to the West, with the resource having been discovered in the country in the early 1990s. International energy companies including Exxon-Mobil are extracting oil in the country.

As a result, Equatorial Guinea has become fabulously rich. At nearly 38,000 US dollars, its per-capita gross domestic product (GDP) stands among the top 30 in the world, according to the 2010 CIA World Factbook. But only a tiny elite actually stands to profit. The vast majority of the Equatorial Guinean people lives in abject poverty. According to figures from the International Monetary Fund, over three quarters of the population earn less than one dollar per day.

In contrast, the projected price of Obiang's new yacht is roughly three times the annual amount Equatorial Guinea spends on both its health and education budgets. “It seems like an obscene amount of money to be spending on a luxury item given the levels of poverty in the country,” said Robert Palmer of Global Witness.

Categories: Politics, International.

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