Brazilian Police Seize $16.5 Million in Cash and Luxury Watches from Teodorin Obiang Party

For some members of the ultra-wealthy, daily living has become exceptionally frustrating.  Take the case of Teodorin Obiang, First Vice President of Equatorial Guinea and son of the country’s President Teodoro Obiang.  As befitted the son of a man in permanent contact with God, and the heir-apparent in a country blessed with vast oil revenues, Obiang was once able – despite his modest salary of $6,500 a month while serving as the country’s Minister of Forestry and Agriculture — to indulge freely in the good things in life: a Malibu, California mansion costing more than $30 million, homes on at least three other continents, numerous luxury cars, the $20 million art collection of the late Yves St. Laurent, and a Gulfstream jet, to name a few.

In the last decade, however, Obiang has been increasingly beset with vexing demands by various  governments:

  • In 2011, French authorities seized a brace of Obiang’s luxury cars, which were later auctioned off after a French appeals court found “sufficient indications to believe that all the vehicles were acquired through the misappropriation of funds.”
  • In 2012, French authorities seized Obiang’s €107 million mansion near the Champs-Élysées, as well as many of its contents (e.g., a Rodin statue, 300 bottles of wine worth €1 million and art works from the St. Laurent collection), and obtained an international arrest warrant for Obiang.
  • In 2014 — in the face of allegations that he used “relentless embezzlement and extortion [to] shamelessly loo[t] his government and [shake] down businesses in his country to support his lavish lifestyle” — Obiang agreed to relinquish assets totaling more than $30 million (including the Malibu mansion) to resolve civil forfeiture cases that the U.S. Department of Justice had brought in 2011.
  • In 2016, Swiss authorities seized 11 of Obiang’s luxury cars, despite Obiang’s explanation that the cars were only in Switzerland for repairs, and Dutch authorities seized his $120 million luxury yacht at the request of Swiss authorities investigating Obiang for money laundering.
  • 2017 proved even more disruptive to Obiang’s lifestyle. In October, he was convicted in absentia in a French court on corruption- and embezzlement-related charges and handed a three-year suspended sentence and confiscation of more than €100 million of his assets in France, including the Paris mansion.  The conviction and sentence occurred not long after a South African court approved the seizure of his multimillion-rand South African beach cottage.

The latest source of frustration for Obiang was the reception he and his party received when flying into Brazil last week.  Brazilian federal police reportedly found $1.5 million in cash in one bag and watches worth an estimated $15 million in another, and seized the cash and watches.   Even though an Equatorial Guinea diplomatic source later explained that “the money was to pay for medical treatment Obiang was to undergo in São Paulo,” and Obiang was accustomed to traveling with suitcases filled with cash, Brazilian law inconveniently forbids individuals from entering Brazil with more than 10,000 reais ($2,417) in cash.

In a subsequent meeting with the Brazilian Ambassador to Equatorial Guinea, Equatorial Guinea’s Foreign Minister Simeón Oyono expressed concern about Obiang’s treatment, referring obliquely to “behaviour which could disturb the good health enjoyed by the ties of friendship between the two States, peoples and governments.”  Oyono’s concern is understandable.  At this rate, if more countries are minded to follow the American, French, and Swiss examples, certain other governments may be concerned if their ultra-wealthy officials are unable to retain, transfer, or transport their assets merely because they have provably engaged in grand corruption, embezzlement, or money laundering.

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