Families of two South African engineers who were arrested a year ago, and subsequently sentenced for drug trafficking in Equatorial Guinea insist the duo is being punished for South Africa’s sins.
The two were arrested while working offshore in the central African country, just two days after a South African court ordered the seizure of a super yacht, called Blue Shadow valued above R300 million, and two luxury villas belonging to vice president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro “Teodorin” Nguema Obiang Mangue, the playboy son of the current president, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
On Friday, marking the one year anniversary since Frederik “Frik” Potgieter, 54, and Peter Huxham, 55, the families have once again appealed to the South African government to intervene. Huxman had dual South African/UK citizenship.
IOL has previously reported that Potgieter and Huxham were working for a Dutch company on an oil rig off the coast of Equatorial Guinea when they were arrested on charges of alleged drug trafficking at their hotel in Malabo on February 9 last year.
“They were arrested at a hotel in Equatorial Guinea on the 9th of February so it is one year since their arrest of trumped-up drug-related charges. This happened a night before they were supposed to return home after a five-week stink offshore,” representative for the two men’s families, Shaun Murphy told broadcaster eNCA on Friday.
“Incidentally, this happened two days after SA authorities seized the vice president of Equatorial Guinea’s two luxury villas and his shipping yacht. At the time of the arrest, they were working off the coast of Equatorial Guinea. It is now very clear that the actual cause of their arrest is in retaliation for South Africa seizing these properties.
“They are being held in a prison reserved for political prisoners in that country. They have received a 12-year sentence, damages to the value of US$5 million each which equates to about R95 million each, plus additional fines. The sentences are much higher than what the Equatorial Guinea law allows,” he said.
Murphy added that the “highly-skilled and professional” engineers did not receive a fair trial before they received the hefty sentences in Equatorial Guinea.
“From what we understand, the trial was not fair. There was no evidence that was presented. The attorneys couldn’t really present the case, there was five judges present. The drugs which they say were found on them – there was never an investigation into that,” he said.
The families said the intervention from the South African government has been lacklustre.
“From the South African side, there is really not much feedback, unfortunately. We don’t know what the South African government is doing in order to secure the release. These men are in prison because one country took the property of a vice president of another country,” said Murphy.
“This is entirely a political situation and it calls for a political solution.”
He said the Department of Internationals has previously facilitated two visits, for representatives to visit the engineers in Equatorial Guinea, and the detained men were allowed one call to their partners.
“It is very clear to us that the Department of International Relations and Minister Naledi Pandor have the authority, have the leadership and the capability required to intervene on this international level,” said Murphy.
“The sad reality is that they have done very little to assist us, their own citizens. Besides being heartbreaking, this alone should be of great concern to any South African who travels for work. It’s not good.”
In July last year, the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) expressed support for the families of the engineers, and said it was “disturbed to learn of the sentence handed down to two South African nationals”.
At the time, Dirco said they were denied access to the men, in violation of international law.
The families said since then, Dirco’s consular desk has managed to arrange two visits to the men in the past year, and one call to each of their partners.
Last year, IOL reported that the luxury yacht, seized in Cape Town following a Western Cape High Court order, had been released.
The release came after a series of angry tweets by Obiang, in which he said the vessel was in fact a military asset belonging to the Equatorial Guinea Defence Force and threatened diplomatic consequences against South Africa if the yacht was not released.
The court ordered the seizure in February 2023 after Western Cape businessman Daniel Janse van Rensburg won a lawsuit against the Equatorial Guinea vice president for unlawful arrest and torture and imprisonment in the central African nation’s notorious Black Beach prison between 2013 and 2015, after a business deal went wrong.
Van Rensburg said his lawyers told him Obiang petitioned the Sheriff of the Court, seeking the immediate release of the yacht which was to have been auctioned for R39.8 million.
This story will be updated when comment is received from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation.