More than a decade earlier, CCFD-Terre Solidaire, a French
nongovernmental organization, denounced Western companies and
governments for enabling dictators by welcoming their ill-gotten
wealth. That prompted the anticorruption groups Transparency
International France and Sherpa to start legal proceedings against the
presidents of Equatorial Guinea, the Republic of Congo and Gabon.
Mr. Obiang’s case is the first to go to trial. His particularly
ostentatious lifestyle raised questions about corruption, with posts on
Instagram showing him driving luxury cars or riding limited-edition
In Paris, where he would spend a few months a year, he flaunted a fleet
of obscenely expensive cars and motorcycles. He displayed a $22 million
art collection in his mansion. Bénédicte de Perthuis, the French judge
who found him guilty, said Mr. Obiang had failed to produce a
“convincing justification of the origin of his fortune.”
I was born in Equatorial Guinea in 1979, when his father, President
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, took power in a coup. He is still in
power. The corruption of the Obiang family and their retainers grew
exponentially after oil was discovered in 1996.
The United States Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
found in 2004 that the Washington-based Riggs Bank, now closed, which
had helped the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet transfer huge amounts
of money to offshore shell companies, provided similar services to the
The Senate report stated that Riggs Bank opened multiple personal
accounts for the Obiangs, unquestionably accepted millions of dollars
of cash deposits into their accounts, and helped establish offshore
shell corporations for them.
The ruling family of Equatorial Guinea doesn’t seem to care much about
foreign legal proceedings. Mr. Obiang, who did not appear in the Paris
court, reacted to the verdict by posting smiling selfies on Instagram.
In 2014, the United States Justice Department reached a settlement of
its civil forfeiture cases against Mr. Obiang and forced him to
relinquish assets worth $30 million. “After raking in millions in
bribes and kickbacks, Nguema Obiang embarked on a corruption-fueled
spree in the United States,” the Justice Department said in a
statement. Court documents revealed that Mr. Obiang, who received a
government salary of less than $100,000, had amassed assets worth more
than $300 million through corruption and money laundering.