Equatorial Guinea has convicted two offshore workers of drug smuggling, prompting formal objections from South Africa.
The two men, Peter Shane Huxham and Frederic Johannes Potgieter, were arrested on February 9 as they were preparing to leave their hotel, the Anda China, in Malabo. They were due to take a flight back to South Africa on February 10.
The South African press has linked the arrests to a dispute involving the seizure of a yacht, said to be owned by Equatorial Guinea Vice President Teodorin Nguema Obiang.
“They made their first court appearance only on 26 June 2023, to receive the formal charges against them,” said a statement from Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). On June 30, the court found them guilty of trafficking and possession of cocaine.
DIRCO quoted media reports as saying the court had jailed the two for 12 years. They have also received a fine of 141 million rand ($7.8mn) each.
Huxham and Potgieter have both maintained their innocence. SBM Offshore employs the two men. The company works on the Serpentina and Aseng FPSOs.
An SBM representative confirmed the two were employees, seconded to its GEPsing joint venture.
“Both men have an excellent employment history with us, and we trust in their integrity, character, and professionalism as demonstrated through their impeccable career records in the oil and gas industry with us in EG and abroad,” the spokesperson said.
SBM will “continue to provide support for Peter and Frederik’s independent legal representation and offers assistance to their attorneys. We are currently reviewing the details of the verdict and will continue supporting our colleagues through daily contact with family members and the legal team managing the case.”
SBM and the families of the two have agreed to appeal the verdict.
News reports in Equatorial Guinea alleged the two had smoked cocaine at work.
DIRCO director general Zane Dangor expressed concern at the sentencing. The South African embassy has been denied consular access, in violation of international law.
“The government of Equatorial Guinea has failed in its obligation to formally notify DIRCO and grant consular access by the Embassy officials to the two South African nationals.”
Equatorial Guinea has responsibility for the “welfare and safety” of the two. Dangor said he was willing to “have more direct and constructive cooperation with the relevant authorities regarding this matter”.
A continued denial of access “compromises the long-standing good bilateral relations between the two countries”.
Equatorial Guinea initially imprisoned the two men at the Black Beach prison. The government then moved them to the mainland.
Blue Shadow leverage
The government held South African businessman Daniel Janse van Rensburg at the same prison in 2014-15 after a business deal went wrong.
After he was finally released, he sued Equatorial Guinea in local courts and won, with a Cape Town court giving an order on February 7 to seize the Blue Shadow yacht. Two days later, Equatorial Guinea arrested the two South African workers.
The vice president responded to the arrest by issuing a string of threats on Twitter. He accused South Africa of racism and said Equatorial Guinea was considering closing its “air and maritime space” to any aeroplanes or ships from South Africa.
This, he said, was “the first of the package of measures that we have to respond to your resistance to return the ship to us”. Obiang described the 76-metre Blue Shadow as a military asset.
The Blue Shadow has room for 12 guests in 11 suites. According to rental information on the yacht, the vessel has jet skis and a catamaran.
South Africa released the yacht and it promptly left, calling in Equatorial Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire. It is now, according to Vessel Finder, off Portugal. The court also seized two houses belonging to Obiang.
Obiang also owns another yacht, the Ebony Shine. The Dutch authorities seized this vessel in 2016. The vessel is up for sale – for 100 million euros. The yacht has a “full spa with sauna, Hamman and massage room as well as a touch-and-go-helipad”.
Updated at 12:50 pm with comment from SBM.
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