Equatorial Guinea Tries to Recover Leader's Yacht

Published Mar 17, 2017 8:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

The government of Equatorial Guinea is attempting to get the Dutch government to release the $100 million megayacht Ebony Shine from detention, arguing that the vessel's beneficial owner is immune from prosecution. 

Authorities in the Netherlands arrested the yacht upon a request from the Swiss government. Swiss law enforcement claimed that Ebony Shine was purchased with stolen public funds on behalf of Equatorial Guinea's vice president, the millionare playboy Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue. Switzerland is in the process of prosecuting Nguema for corruption and money laundering. 

Nguema's lawyers told a Dutch court on Thursday that the seizure of the Ebony Shine was tantamount to an act of war under international law, as the vessel is technically a government vessel. The ship is owned and operated by Dara Limited, an offshore holding company controlled by Equatorial Guinea. Dutch prosecutors contend that the yacht could not be considered a government vessel in the traditional sense, even if it is technically owned by a government. "A jacuzzi on the upper deck serves no military purpose," the public prosecutor observed.

Even if the yacht were not government-owned, Nguema’s lawyers contended, he still has immunity as a leader of a sovereign country. "A dictator has the same immunity as a beacon of Western democracy," they argued. "Whether state-owned wholly or partially used privately by a member of the government is irrelevant."

Nguema is the son of dictator President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, and he is expected to assume the presidency when his father retires. He is well-known as an aficionado of supercars, mansions, jets and Michael Jackson memorabilia, among other luxury goods, and he has been pursued on corruption charges by French and American authorities for years. The French government contends that he has absconded with at least $110 million in public funds. 

Ebony Shine is not Equatorial Guinea's only government-owned megayacht, nor is it the nation’s largest. The 300-foot Ice, built by Lurssen in 2005, was reportedly purchased by Equatorial Guinea in 2015. AIS data showed her moored at Tangier, Morocco as of March 17. 

Equatorial Guinea is Africa’s richest country per capita thanks to its thriving oil sector, but its wealth is highly concentrated. Poverty is widespread: according to the U.N., the majority of the country lacks access to clean drinking water, and about 20 percent of its children do not survive past the age of five. It consistently ranks among Freedom House's most repressive societies, and its government is widely believed to engage in corruption, torture, extrajudicial killings and the imprisonment of political opponents.