Dictator's son in hot water over £235m yacht

Plan dwarfed health and education budgets
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The Independent Online

With its cinema, restaurant, swimming pool and £800,000 security system complete with floor motion sensors and fingerprint door openers, the superyacht Zen is the kind of toy James Bond's dreams are made of.

But blueprints for the world's second most extravagant yacht, costing £235m, are no Hollywood fantasy. They are the pet project of Teodorin Obiang, 41, the son of Teodoro Obiang, who has been Equatorial Guinea's dictator for 30 years. Designs were revealed yesterday after undercover investigators from the anti-corruption watchdog Global Witness visited the shipyard in Germany commissioned to build it.

Its price tag is almost three times more than energy-rich Equatorial Guinea spends annually on health and education programmes combined. A spokesman for Global Witness, Robert Palmer, said: "It's another concrete example of where corrupt politicians are allowed to blow piles of public money without any checks."

Global Witness has been urging the West to institute sanctions against Teodorin Obiang, whose extravagant lifestyle includes a £21m mansion in Malibu, California, a £20m private jet and a fleet of luxury cars, despite the fact his official salary as Minister for Agriculture is a modest £4,000 a month.

In a written statement, a spokesperson for Equatorial Guinea's government press office said Teodorin Obiang had asked the German shipping company Kusch to draw up designs for the yacht, but said he had changed his mind about buying it. They also said that if the boat was purchased, it would be with income from private business activities and not "with funds derived from illegal financing or corruption".

Mr Obiang is said to have met a representative of Kusch at a Swiss hotel to discuss the design. If built, it would be the world's second-most expensive yacht after the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich's £738m Eclipse. The British designer Tim Heywood is said to have produced the drawings for Zen. His previous designs include the 377ft Pelorus, also owned by Mr Abramovich. Mr Heywood declined to comment.

Oil-rich Equatorial Guinea has a GDP per capita income higher than the UK and yet more than three-quarters of its people live below the poverty line.

President Obiang, who is reportedly grooming his son to succeed him, took power in one of West Africa's most violent rebellions in 1979. According to Forbes magazine, he is worth about £360m, making him eighth-richest leader in the world.

He also has one of the worst human rights records with a reputation for torturing and killing his opponents and building his personal fortune through extortion.

An investigation by the US Justice Department in 2007 into more than £46m held in US banks on behalf of Teodorin Obiang reported that "it is suspected that a large portion of Teodoro Nguema Obiang's assets have originated from extortion, theft of public funds, or other corrupt conduct".