As regular readers will know, last month I spent two weeks in Botswana, on safari. We saw all the usual amazing beasts (elephants using their trunks as snorkels!), but perhaps the most alarming were the crocodiles – enormous, prehistoric and terrifying. At the same time as we were making sure not to dangle any body parts in the croc-infested waters, the Most Serene Republic of San Marino (yes, that’s its real name) announced that it had confiscated €19 million that had allegedly been deposited in local bank accounts by Denis Sassou Nguesso – president of the Republic of Congo since 1997. The Sassou Nguesso family is not known for its poverty, nor for its open manner of doing business: Global Witness reckons that the president, his son Denis Christel and his daughter Claudia have all had their hand in the state’s till.
San Marino has been running a money laundering investigation and the €19 million is only part of the €69 million deposited in thirty-six accounts in San Marino’s banks by the president and his relatives and cronies between 2006 and 2011. Not all the money was socked away for future use: investigators’ notes reveal that, alongside the usual blingy watches and luxurious hotel stays, Sassou Nguesso spent €114,000 on crocodile skin shoes. It’s hard to know which reptiles are more scary: the ones in the rivers, or the ones in power who wear them.