South Africans detained at notorious prison in Equatorial Guinea
Arrests coincide with seizure of Equatorial Guinea superyacht
Diplomatic efforts are under way to assist two South Africans arrested on drug-related charges and detained in Equatorial Guinea's notorious Black Beach prison.
Peter Huxham from Langebaan outside Cape Town and Frederic Potgieter from George, who are employed in the offshore oil and gas industry, were arrested at a hotel in the capital Malabo last week — two days after the high court in Cape Town authorised the attachment of a R300m superyacht allegedly owned by Equatorial Guinea's vice-president Teodorin Obiang.
The superyacht attachment was related to a R40m damages court ruling for the unlawful imprisonment in 2013 of South African businessman Daniel Janse van Rensburg, incarcerated at Black Beach over a soured business deal without being charged for a crime. He emerged “permanently physically impaired, psychologically shattered and unable to earn a living”.
Equatorial Guinea police allege the pair were in possession of cocaine. The timing of their arrest has raised eyebrows.
They are yet to be formally charged with a crime, according to the department of international relations and co-operation (Dirco).
“Our mission in Malabo was informed telephonically on Friday February 10 about the arrest and detention of two South African citizens who are employed in Equatorial Guinea,” said Dirco spokesperson Clayson Monyela. “Dirco officials have met the family as part of rendering consular services.”
South African embassy staff visited the men at a police station last Saturday and said they did not complain about treatment, access to medication or food.
“According to the company's [which employs the men] legal representative ... there is no formal charge and the legal system in Equatorial Guinea empowers the judge to detain a person at any centre where it deems appropriate,” said Monyela. “According to the company legal representative, the reason for being incarcerated at Black Beach is common in Equatorial Guinea and they consider it as 'preventive incarceration' to avoid fleeing the country.”
DA shadow minister for international relations and co-operation Darren Bergman said: “At this stage, it seems that the timing is too coincidental. Especially for employees that have been following the same routine for eight years and travel lightly. This will be a sad day between the two countries diplomatically if we use citizens as pawns to settle alleged debts,” Bergman said.
Dutch oil and gas exploration company SBM Offshore employs the men. “As part of our duty of care towards employees, we have an obligation to decline any invitation to discuss individuals. We will honour this obligation, and I trust you understand our position,” said group communications and change director Evelyn Tachau-Brown.
“Dirco needs to call for a swift hearing and the presentation of evidence must be independent in terms of CCTV footage from both airports, testimony from the hotels,” said Bergman.
The 67m Blue Shadow was attached last week in Cape Town. and is due to be sold at judicial auction.
Janse van Rensburg said he was in contact with the detained men's families.
Teodorin Obiang is the son of Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang and leads a lavish lifestyle, chronicled on social media.. In 2021 he lost two Cape Town properties, a mansion in Bishopscourt and a bungalow in Clifton after an attachment order linked to Janse van Rensburg's damages case.
Three years ago the 76m Ebony Shine, another superyacht allegedly owned by Obiang, left Cape Town when the Sunday Times made enquiries about it.
The vessel has twice been arrested and released as lawyers attempt to attach Obiang’s assets in relation to an embezzlement case and an Interpol arrest warrant validated by the International Court of Justice. Assets featured in these court proceedings include a $100m Parisian mansion (R1.7bn), 25 sports cars including a rare Lamborghini, and a Michael Jackson memorabilia collection.
The Equatorial Guinea embassy could not be reached for comment.
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