Why a huge luxury yacht is a must-have accessory for any dictator's family

There’s an interesting, if unsurprising, story in today’s Guardian newspaper about plans hatched by the son of Equatorial Guinea’s dictator president for his own superyacht.

Those plans, since abandoned, were for a £234 million motoryacht. The Guardian points out that the build cost would have been three times Equatorial Guinea’s health and education bill.

It reads: ‘Teodorin Obiang, eldest son of Teodoro Obiang, the president of Equatorial Guinea, wanted to build the world’s second most expensive yacht after the Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich’s $1.2bn Eclipse, the campaign group Global Witness said.

‘It condemned the plan as “outrageous extravagance” in a country where, despite vast oil wealth, 20% of children die before their fifth birthday and few people live beyond 50.’

There are many reasons why the rich adore their superyachts, not all to do with privacy, love of the ocean wave or even keeping up with the despot next door.

The murky truth is that the superyacht industry also facilitates money laundering.

In the UK, dealers and manufacturers of luxury goods are obliged to respect anti-money laundering rules and report suspicious activity.

I wouldn’t know how effective this is and in any case there are not many superyacht builders in the UK. However, the rules elsewhere in the world are not so clear.

Most superyacht builders scrupulously protect the anonymity of clients. Many of their clients are rich individuals who have made their billions in legitimate ways. Others have come by them by more suspect routes, and the big order is for a mega-million dollar, tax exempt, movable asset.