JOHANNESBURG – The son of Equatorial Guinea's dictator of 30 years commissioned plans to build a superyacht costing $380 million, nearly three times what the country spends on health and education each year, a corruption watchdog said Monday.
The statement from Global Witness said that German company Kusch Yachts has been asked to build the yacht, housing a cinema, restaurant, bar and swimming pool, though construction has not yet started.
Global Witness has been urging Washington to institute sanctions against Teodorin Obiang, whose extravagant lifestyle currently includes a $35 million-dollar mansion in Malibu, California, a $33 million jet and a fleet of luxury cars, while earning a salary of $6,799 a month as agriculture minister.
The government press office in Equatorial Guinea confirmed that the president's son had ordered the yacht design, but said he "then dismissed the idea of buying it."
It said that if the order had gone ahead, he would have bought it with income from private business activities and not "with funds derived from sources of illegal financing or corruption."
President Teodoro Obiang, who reportedly is grooming his son to succeed him as president, took power in a bloody 1979 coup. Forbes has estimated his wealth at around $600 million.
Teodorin Obiang justified his wealth in a sworn affidavit to a South African court questioning his ownership of luxury mansions and expensive cars in Cape Town in 2006.
He stated that public officials in his country are allowed to partner with foreign companies bidding for government contracts and said this means "a Cabinet minister ends up with a sizable part of the contract price in his bank account."
The tiny West African nation may be oil rich, but U.N. statistics show that 20 percent of children in Equatorial Guinea die before reaching the age of 5, and the average citizen is unlikely to live beyond 50. The State Department report on human rights also has condemned killings by security forces and the torture of prisoners.
Meanwhile, writer Juan Tomas Avila Laurel is in the 17th day of a hunger strike demanding justice for the people of Equatorial Guinea, inspired by the popular revolutions that have ousted longtime leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and now threaten Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.
Avila Laurel, 44, left Malabo for Barcelona, Spain, amid fears for his safety the day he began his hunger strike Feb. 11. He joins one-third of the population living in voluntary or enforced exile, according to the U.S. State Department.
The government has reacted to the author's hunger strike by denouncing "the web of gossip, lies and miserable maneuvers" surrounding reports about Equatorial Guinea.
"Nonetheless, we hope this person's example also serves to silence many mouths who continuously speak of lack of freedom and respect for human rights in Equatorial Guinea since, as is more than evident, this person has acted at all times with absolute freedom," it said in a statement on its website.
Global Witness: http://www.globalwitness.org
Equatorial Guinea's government website: http://www.guineaecuatorialpress.com