Teodorin Obiang, the 41-year-old son of Equatorial Guinea's dictator, is the agriculture minister in his father's government but spends much of his time in California, with a $35 million mansion in Malibu, a fleet of luxury cars and a private jet. His government salary is $6,799 a month -- making him certainly comfortable by U.S. standards but extremely wealthy compared with others in his home country. But even on that salary, it would still take him 4,600 years to pay for the luxury yacht he's ordered.
The suspicion is that he has no intention of paying for it with his own money but rather with stolen funds that really belong to the poor residents of Equatorial Guinea. As in many African countries, corruption is rampant, and a top government job often means free rein to dip into government coffers.
The $380 million yacht, which has yet to be built, would be the world's second most expensive boat, behind one that belongs to Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. It's supposed to be 387 feet long, housing a movie theater, restaurant, bar, swimming pool and a $1.3 million security system with floor motion sensors and fingerprint door openers, the anti-corruption group Global Witness said today. Obiang was previously building another boat equipped with a shark tank on board, it said.
Word of Obiang's over-the-top yacht comes amid increased scrutiny of the lavish lifestyles of Middle Eastern or African dictators -- like Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and his family -- despite the relative poverty of the people they rule. Many live the high life and stash assets in foreign countries. Last week, the U.S. and Switzerland froze assets of Gadhafi and some of his sons.
Global Witness has been investigating Obiang's business dealings for more than a year and has made public details of his lifestyle, including his salary, on its website. Its undercover investigators visited a shipyard in northern Germany where the yacht is scheduled to be built, verifying the project's price tag and owner.
"Evidence points to corruption by Teodorin on a scale that would not be possible or attractive if countries like Germany and the U.S. were not safe havens, in terms of free passage for him and for his questionable private wealth," Gavin Hayman, director of campaigns at Global Witness, said in a statement on the group's website.
He added that "$380 million is a staggering sum -- that a president's son from such a poor country has ordered this yacht is outrageous extravagance on his part."
U.S. law prohibits corrupt foreign officials from getting U.S. entry visas, and the U.S. Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has investigated and documented Obiang's wealth, concluding that most of it comes from corruption. But he continues to be granted entry into the U.S., to visit his Malibu home. That's because of Obiang's close ties to the American oil industry, former and current U.S. State Department officials told The New York Times in November 2009.
But instead of helping to improve poor Africans' lives, the country's oil wealth has largely lined the pockets of its ruling elites like Obiang. Equatorial Guinea has one of the world's highest per capita incomes, but nearly 80 percent of its citizens live below the poverty line, according to the CIA World Factbook. Disease is rampant, and most citizens have no access to clean water.
Meanwhile, the elder Obiang was rated No. 8 on Forbes magazine's list of the world's richest leaders. He has a fortune estimated at $600 million.