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Families of SA engineers ‘wrongfully’ jailed in Equatorial Guinea urge Pretoria to get them home for Christmas

Families of SA engineers ‘wrongfully’ jailed in Equatorial Guinea urge Pretoria to get them home for Christmas
Peter Huxham (left) and Frik Potgieter. (Photo: Supplied) Frederik Potgieter and Peter Huxham

The families of Frik Potgieter and Peter Huxham believe they were jailed because a Cape Town court seized a superyacht and two mansions owned by Equatorial Guinea’s vice-president.

The “completely desperate” families of Frik Potgieter and Peter Huxham, two South African engineers held in prison in Equatorial Guinea for more than nine months, have urged the South African government to get them home for Christmas. 

Their families say the two men are innocent and were arrested in the Central African country in revenge for a South African court ordering the seizure of a superyacht and two luxury homes in Cape Town owned by the vice-president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro “Teodorin” Nguema Obiang Mangue, the playboy son of the president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo.

The Cape Town court ordered the seizures to compensate local businessman Daniel Janse van Rensburg for about $2.2-million he claimed against the vice-president for unlawful arrest and torture.

He said he was unlawfully detained in Equatorial Guinea for about 500 days after a business deal went wrong.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Black Beach: 491 Days in One of Africa’s Most Brutal Prisons – ‘a place of fear, torture, abuse and humiliation’

Days after the court order, on 9 February, Potgieter and Huxham were arrested in the capital, Malabo, where they were working for the Dutch company SBM Offshore. They are both “highly experienced and professional engineers”, their families said.

They were arrested on “trumped-up allegations of drug-related charges. They were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment, as well as being ordered to pay $5M USD (R93.7 million) each in damages with additional fines to be shared between them. The extraordinarily high fines are vastly in excess of what is normal for that country,” the families said in a joint statement.

Securing the speedy release of Potgieter and Huxham was part of Pretoria’s responsibility and mandate to assist and protect its citizens, the statement said.

Francois Nigrini, the spokesperson for the Huxham family, said: “It’s been over nine months since Frik and Peter were arrested on fabricated charges, and there is no sign from the South African government that they are anywhere near to securing their release.

“While we had a few productive meetings with Dirco earlier this year, we have been unable to pin them down for a meeting since August, despite many attempts. As the families of these two innocent men, we need to know what progress is being made regarding efforts in getting the guys back home.”

Shaun Murphy, the spokesperson for the Potgieter family, said: “The reason we need our government to intervene is because this is an entirely political matter, which can only be solved through a political solution. Peter and Frik are innocent bystanders who have been caught up in matters that have nothing to do with them. Can you imagine how utterly powerless and distressed they must feel?

“Quite honestly, the families are now completely desperate. Christmas is around the corner, which is a very important time for these deeply Christian families, but without Frik and Peter at home, it will be near impossible for the families to enjoy the celebrations during the festive season.”

Potgieter and Huxham’s lawyers are appealing against their convictions and sentences in the Equatorial Guinea courts.

Yellow ribbons

In the past nine months, the Potgieter family has been allowed one telephone call with Frik, and the Huxham family two calls with Peter. In one of the calls, Huxham proposed to his girlfriend, Kathy McConnachie, and she accepted. She and Sonja Potgieter, Frik’s wife, have tied yellow ribbons — “a symbol of hope and solidarity and a steadfast reminder of the family’s unwavering belief in justice” — on trees and ornaments throughout their houses and gardens.

“Christmas is about coming together as a family, and without Peter and Frik being home, it is not going to feel like Christmas for the Huxham and Potgieter families. We urge [the] government to step up their efforts to reunite our families. Our future, and that of Frik and Peter, lies in their hands,” Nigrini said.

“The families have been devastated by Frik and Peter’s arrests, for crimes they unequivocally did not commit,” the families said.

They said Potgieter and Huxham had been working for SBM Offshore in Equatorial Guinea for 11 and 15 years, respectively “and have maintained an impeccable professional record in the oil and gas industry, both in Equatorial Guinea and abroad in other countries.

“Despite both working for the same company, Frik and Peter did not know each other prior to their arrest. They received an official summons from the court on Wednesday, 22 June 2023 and the trial was held on Monday, 26 June 2023. The verdict was delivered on Thursday, 29 June 2023.

“Both Frik and Peter have denied all charges from the outset, and are shocked that any allegations related to drugs would be brought against them. 

“The families believe that the release of Frik and Peter will depend on strong and successful bilateral engagement between the governments of South Africa and Equatorial Guinea, and they urge Dirco to pursue every avenue available to achieve this as quickly as possible. 

“They have already been in jail in Equatorial Guinea for nine months — every additional day they remain in jail in Equatorial Guinea deepens their exposure to potential harm, and further distress.”

Vice-President Obiang is globally notorious for his luxurious lifestyle, financed by Equatorial Guinea’s fabulous oil wealth which has made it one of the richest countries in Africa, though most of its people remain poor.

In 2014, the US Justice Department seized his $30-million mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari automobile, and “various items of Michael Jackson memorabilia”. It said the items had been bought with the proceeds of corruption.

In 2021, the department said that $10.3-million of these settlement funds had been forfeited to the US, $19.25-million would go to the United Nations to buy Covid-19 vaccines, and $6.35-million would pay for other medicine and medical supplies for Equatorial Guinea.

The department said Obiang had used his positions in the government, “to amass more than $300-million worth of assets through corruption and money laundering, in violation of both US and Equatoguinean law”.

Daily Maverick asked the spokesperson for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation for comment, but he had not done so by the time of publication. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mkili Muzenha says:

    This story is bizarre. There are South African companies operating in Equatorial Guinea and so why would government arrest 2 men that have no important status in SA besides the fact that they are SA citizens.

    What did these people do exactly because SA doesn’t just let its people to be jailed for nothing.

    These could be dingy dirty and sadistic criminals for all we know

  • snigrini1 says:

    These individuals, our esteemed family members, are unequivocally blameless. They epitomize the utmost virtue and compassion, devotedly tending to our kin and safeguarding our well-being. We firmly ascertain their innocence amidst this politicized situation, wherein our beloved relatives are unjustly detained. We beseech your prayers for their safe return to our embrace.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

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