Did Swiss courts go far enough in their decision to seize assets from Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the vice president of Equatorial Guinea and son of its president of nearly four decades?
Not according to Human Rights Watch, which said Friday that Swiss prosecutors – though they established some hefty consequences for the younger Obiang – still fell short of holding him fully accountable.
“The case presented a rare opportunity to puncture the absolute impunity for corruption Teodorin enjoys at home, while returning some of his vast sums of money to the people to whom it belongs,” said Sarah Saadoun, a researcher in business and human rights. “It could also have sent an important message to kleptocrats everywhere that foreign governments will not permit them to hide or spend stolen funds on their territory.”
Swiss authorities announced Thursday that Equatorial Guinea agreed to pay USD$1.5 million to cover the costs of a two-year investigation. They also will keep 25 exotic cars that Obiang owned. Yet they didn’t force a clear admission of guilt on money laundering and misappropriation of public assets, and they decided Obiang can keep a $100-million superyacht in the Netherlands that’s worth more than the most recent figures for Equatorial Guinea’s entire health budget.
“At the very least, Switzerland should ensure the proceeds from selling the cars go to programs that promote transparency in Equatorial Guinea and help civil society hold their officials accountable for corruption,” Saadoun said.
The Swiss case follows a 2017 case in France, in which Obiang was convicted in absentia of spending $113 million in public funds in that country. The United States settled a money laundering case against him that included forfeiture of a $30 million mansion. Last September, he had run-ins with Brazilian authorities who seized $1.4 million in cash and $15 million in luxury watches at the airport.
Image: Ebony Shine