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African dictator's son in town for Carnival

Four days after a court in France upheld a three-year suspended jail term and imposed a fine of US$33 million against the flamboyant vice president of Equatorial Guinea, he arrived in TT.

Teodorin Nguema Obiang and his delegation docked outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel, in Port of Spain aboard a 90-metre superyacht around 1.47 pm on Friday and several people on board were seen later that evening on deck during a barbeque.

Obiang, 50, the eldest son of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, is reportedly here to enjoy the revelry of TT Carnival after being smitten last year. The yacht itself has attracted scores of curious onlookers, not only by its sheer size, but it also carries an Augusta Westland helicopter on board.

Instagram photos show Obiang posing with cricket legend Brian Lara at his Lady Chancellor home and on top of a music truck at the Socadrome as Yuma masqueraders paraded last year.

There was no response to a message sent to Obiang seeking comment about the purpose of his visit.

An instagram post of Teodorin Nguema Obiang and Brian Lara in 2019. -

His father seized power of the oil-rich African nation in 1979 after overthrowing his uncle Francisco Macías Nguema, in a bloody military coup. Obiang was appointed vice president in 2016.

According to international media reports, Nguema, who has been described as one of Africa's longest-serving leader, and his son, have been accused of misusing the country's oil revenue but they both deny any wrongdoing. International human rights groups have also accused the president of the systematic repression of opponents.

A World Bank report said that almost three-quarters of the 740,000 people in Equatorial Guinea live in poverty.

A national security source confirmed Obiang's arrival but noted that he was not a fugitive or wanted by any international law enforcement agency.

One online vessel tracking site showed that the superyacht, Ice, travelled from Barbados to TT on Friday.

An Augusta Westland helicopter on the Ice yacht in Port of Spain. - JEFF K MAYERS

A BBC report, published on February 10, reported that French authorities triggered an investigation against Obiang after a campaign by Transparency International and other anti-corruption bodies.

Through his team of lawyers, Obiang denied the charges, claiming that his wealth had come from legitimate sources.

He was not in court for his trial or appeal.

Obiang is the first African leader to be sentenced in France for ill-gotten gains. However, the United States and Switzerland have seized his assets, including a fleet of luxury cars and other property.

He has challenged the French charges which related to his acquisition of a six-floor mansion in Paris by arguing before the International Criminal Court of Justice that it should be offered the same protection as a diplomatic building.

According to an AFP news agency report, in 2016, Swiss prosecutors seized 11 luxury cars belonging to Obiang.

The cars – among them Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys and Rolls Royce – were sold at an auction for about US$27 million.

In a plea deal with prosecutors, some US$23 million will go to social projects in Equatorial Guinea, a former Spanish colony where poverty is rife.

Equatorial Guinea vice president Teodorin Nguema Obiang. -

Prosecutors argued Obiang had plundered his country's oil wealth to buy luxuries, including a private jet and Michael Jackson memorabilia. In 2018, the Brazilian police seized more than US$16 million in cash and luxury watches in the luggage of a delegation accompanying Obiang.

Transparency International rates Equatorial Guinea 173rd out of 180 countries on its 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index.

US officials accused Obiang of “shamelessly” looting his country and Obiang agreed to hand over more than US$30 million worth of properties, including a mansion in Malibu, California, and a dozen luxury cars.

Obiang, however, managed to keep his US$38 million private jet and collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia, which includes a crystal-studded glove.

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