Teodorin Obiang: Equatorial Guinea’s playboy Vice President

Teodoro (aka Teodorin) Nguema Obiang Mongue Equatorial Guinea

Teodoro (aka Teodorin) Nguema Obiang Mongue, the son of Equatorial Guinea's president. 

Photo credit: File | Jerome Leroy | AFP

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president and son of the head of state, is no stranger to controversy. Some would say he courts and revels in it. 

He is a man of means, and he is not afraid to show it. Extravagance has always punctuated the privileged life of the elder of two sons of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, Africa’s longest-serving leader who has ruled the central African country since 1979.

Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema

Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema. 

Photo credit: File | AFP

Nicknamed Teodorin (Little Teodoro), the 53-year-old attended private secondary schools in France and Switzerland, as well as university, which he never completed, in both France and the United States.

It was in the US, where he first arrived aged 23, that the world began seeing the side of Teodorin he is known for today – a lover of luxury cars and posh mansions, many of which he owns in Europe, the US and South Africa.

He is also a collector, with his prized possessions including jewellery, designer clothing and artefacts.

Often seen sporting dark sunglasses and slicked back hair with a side-part, his opulent lifestyle is in stark contrast to the life of the average Equatoguinean. 

While the country is rich in oil and gas, most of its citizens are poor, and it ranks among the world’s most impoverished places, raising the question of where its earnings from natural resources go.

Start of legal troubles

In 1991, Teodorin enrolled at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, home of the rich and famous, for an English language course. He would soon attract attention because of his lavish lifestyle while at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, where he was lodged. He eventually dropped out, just five months into the four-term non-degree course.

Teodoro (aka Teodorin) Nguema Obiang Mongue Equatorial Guinea

Teodoro (aka Teodorin) Nguema Obiang Mongue, the son of Equatorial Guinea's president. 

Photo credit: File

Fifteen-years later, in 2006, Teodorín purchased a beachfront mansion in Malibu for $35 million. This aroused graft suspicions among authorities.

International scrutiny of Teodorín’s lavish spending began in 2011, when US authorities investigated him for corruption. They accused the playboy leader of using money gained through corruption to fuel his luxury spending sprees in that country.

Consequently, his Malibu mansion and other properties were confiscated as settlement for his conviction. He agreed to give up the mansion overlooking the sea, as well as a Ferrari and Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a $275,000 crystal-covered glove that the late singer wore during his 1980s “Bad” tour.

Michael Jackson white glove

A white bejewelled glove that once belonged to the late singer Michael Jackson. 

Photo credit: File | Reuters | Bonhams & Goodman | Handout

Then came a streak of other investigations across several European countries, notably France, Switzerland and Netherlands.

In 2019, Swiss authorities auctioned a collection of 25 luxury cars of his, fetching a total of $27 million. They included one of the most talked-about automobiles in the world.

It was a limited-edition Lamborghini Veneno Roadster, which sold for a record $8.3 million. Another was the Swedish made Koenigsegg, reputed to be the fastest in the world and produced in only seven copies.

Among the fleet of luxury cars were seven Ferraris, five Bentleys, three Lamborghinis, a Maserati, a McLaren and a Bugatti Veyron, confiscated alongside a yacht valued at $100million by Dutch authorities in 2016.

Another report has linked Teodorin to a $150 million Lurssen yacht named Ice, which he allegedly purchased in 2015.

Now, he is the subject of sanctions that have strained relations between Equatorial Guinea and the UK.

The UK government, while announcing sanctions against him last week, cited investigations and media reports suggesting that he had spent more than $500 million since being appointed into public office. The Foreign Office also cited his previous conviction in the US, and a customised $38 million private jet.

Equatorial Guinea now says it has closed its embassy in London.

Just six days after the UK’s sanctions, France’s highest appeals court upheld a 2017 conviction of Teodorin for embezzlement, for which he was handed a three-year suspended sentence in absentia, fined 30 million euros and all his France-based assets, including properties in Paris worth about $177 million, confiscated.

Some of the people who know Teodorín say he had not always been like this. He is said to have spent his youth engaging in activism, drawing attention to the social ills the overwhelming majority of Equatoguineans live in.

Teodorin’s national political career began with his appointment as adviser to the presidency in the 1990s. He would go on to serve as minister of agriculture and forestry. In 2012, he was appointed one of two second vice-presidents, amid rumours of a plan by his father to groom him as ‘heir to the throne’.

Since 2016, he has been the first vice-president, the closest position to the presidency.

Mineral-rich, yet poor

Equatorial Guinea first discovered oil in 1990. Since then it has become one of Africa’s largest producers but it ranks very poorly in terms of human development.

According to UN data, more 50 per cent of the country’s less than two million people live in abject poverty, on less than a dollar a day, and a significant majority of citizens lack access to clean drinking water.

The country’s oil wealth, combined with rich reserves of gas and timber, makes it the richest country per capita in Africa, but not much of this seems to trickle down.

Instead, it seems the country’s wealth is heavily concentrated at the top. It is this tiny elite cluster that Teodorin belongs to: a privileged group that has benefitted from the country’s mineral wealth in the last 15 years.

Teodoro (aka Teodorin) Nguema Obiang Mongue Equatorial Guinea

Teodoro (aka Teodorin) Nguema Obiang Mongue, the son of Equatorial Guinea's president. 

Photo credit: File | Steve Jordan | AFP

‘Minister of chopping down trees’

But evidence from investigations presented in his court cases indicate that he gets his wealth from not just oil but also from his involvement in Equatorial Guinea’s timber sector, which earned him the moniker “minister of chopping down trees”. 

He has been accused of instituting a large “revolutionary tax” on timber, payments for which were allegedly made directly to him, either in cash or through a company he owns.

According to US legal filings reported by Reuters in 2012, the president in 1993 awarded then 24-year-old Teodorin a concession to harvest 25,000 hectares of forest for timber. By age 30, and in a twist of irony, he was appointed agriculture and forestry minister.

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue equatorial guinea

Teodoro (aka Teodorin) Nguema Obiang Mongue, the son of Equatorial Guinea's president. 

Photo credit: File graphic

In 2006, Teodorin reportedly told a South African court that it was normal for an Equatoguinean cabinet minister to personally benefit from a sizable part of a contract price.

Teodorin’s taste for women is no less intriguing. Among his list of girlfriends are American rapper Eve and former Miss Denmark Christina Mikkelsen, who was reportedly dethroned over links “to a criminal organisation” after Teodorin’s yacht was seized by Swiss authorities amid money laundering claims.

When he is not embroiled in scandal, Teodorin’s favourite humanitarian activity appears to be distributing toys to disadvantaged Equatoguinean children.

No one appears to know his exact net worth, but in 2006, US magazine Forbes estimated his father’s net worth as a staggering $600 million, a claim the Guinean government has denied.