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Instagram playboy is also the vice-president of Equatorial Guinea | The Economist

Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president records his lavish lifestyle on Instagram, but it is unclear where his money comes from. He is currently being tried for embezzlement and money-laundering in France, where a verdict will be announced this week.

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Meet one of Instagram’s most famous playboys. He tours the world, driving fast cars and eating at the world’s finest restaurants. He even gets hip-hop stars like Wyclef Jean to play at his lavish parties posting his exploits on his Instagram account. But this isn’t your typical Instagram star.

He’s the vice-president of a country, Equatorial Guinea. A small country in west Africa with a lot of oil.

Teodoro Nguema Obiang is the second-most-powerful man in the country. His father is the world’s longest serving president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema. The Obiang family has amassed a fortune running into the hundreds of millions of dollars. But how have they made their money?

Equatorial Guinea has some of the most opaque national accounts in the world. Per head it is the richest country in Africa, yet people live in plastic-shack poverty. The most recent figures available from the World Bank suggest that three-quarters of the population live below the poverty line. But the presidential family seem oblivious to the poverty.

If the country is so wealthy, where is all the money going?

Tutu Alicante is a lawyer from Equatorial Guinea who is in exile in the United States. He runs an organisation that is trying to tackle corruption in his homeland. He knows first hand how the massive theft of public money has left little behind to fund public services.

While most of the population live in squalid conditions, Teddy splashes the cash, showing off his wealth on his Instagram account. Often using the hashtag luxury living he reveals a life of privilege and excess. Court papers say he amassed around $300m worldwide between 2000 and 2011, despite having an official government salary of less than $100,000 a year.

The Department of Justice alleged that Teddy embezzled millions of dollars from the public purse as cabinet minister. The Department of Justice agreed a settlement of around $30m with Teddy.

This year Teddy has found himself on trial again. This time in a separate case in France charged with embezzlement and money-laundering. After being unsuccessful in claiming diplomatic immunity he failed to show up to any of the court hearings. Instead, he posted videos on Instagram of himself on safari near Victoria Falls.

The French court valued his assets in France at around €100m, including a large property bought for €25m in Paris. The French public prosecutor has asked for a three-year jail sentence, €30m fine, and all of Teddy’s assets in France to be seized.

The vice-president denies the charges.

The future for Equatorial Guinea looks bleak. The president is ageing and his son is preparing to take over. The spendthrift strongmen of Equatorial Guinea are not the only presidential family in Africa who are under investigation for embezzling from the public purse. The presidents of Gabon and the Republic of Congo are also being investigated by judges in France.

But Teddy’s had a busy time of late posting from the beaches of Brazil to the Great Wall of China. There are plenty of countries where regulators turn a blind eye to despots who want to hide their ill-gotten gains. But their secrets are increasingly being leaked and it helps if the autocrats themselves do the leaking, via Instagram.

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