Exiled Olympian Convict Running To Remove Africa's Longest Ruling Dictator

Gus Envela wants to head a corrupt-free Equatorial Guinea, but first he must get beyond his own checkered past.

By + More

"The time has come for him to step aside," Envela said, "and to usher in the 21st century of African democracy."

The 21st century for Equatorial Guinea has been a time largely shaped by the discovery of oil, which happened in 1996. Since the discovery, the tiny republic the size of Maryland has become the third-largest oil producer in Sub-Saharan Africa. With a population of 650,000, the country's income per capita has risen to one of the highest in the continent.

Much of the oil wealth, however, is concentrated in the hands of only a few people, namely Obiang, his family, and his associates, according to a 2005 Senate investigation, which found that Obiang had funneled millions of dollars into offshore accounts.

Riggs Bank, the D.C.-based bank that allowed Obiang to put through a $35 million transaction from the country's oil revenues, was forced to close in the wake of the investigation.

A Department of Justice investigation in 2011 found that Obiang's son, Teodorín, spent millions that he could not possibly have made as the country's Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, including the purchase of a Malibu, California home, a Michael Jackson glove, and extravagant cars. He mused about buying a yacht for $300 million, three times the amount of Equatorial Guinea's health and education budget, according to anti-corruption group Global Witness.

(Teodorín also reportedly plied his girlfriend, American rapper Eve, with a number of gifts. She was later named in the DOJ investigation, and believed to have broken up with Teodorin over reports his father was a cannibal.)

As a result of Teodorin's shopping sprees, he is wanted for international arrest. He is also Obiang's likely successor.

Envela acknowledges that "taking on a multibillion dollar dictator" has been "difficult." Complicating the story is that Envela has a criminal past of his own.

President Obiang, left, meets Gustavo Envela after his participation in the 1984 Olympic games.

In 2000, Envela was convicted of battery after lashing out against his wife. "I overreacted to a situation and I accept full responsibility for it,” Envela says of the conviction, sounding instantly remorseful. “My two daughters have taught me the importance of respecting women and this is something that I deeply regret.”

He received a year of counseling and served three years probation for the conviction, which numerous media reports about Envela list as his only crime. But a U.S. News & World Report investigation found that Envela has more on his record. In 2011, Envela was charged with forgery, theft by unlawful taking, and access device fraud outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

According to a police criminal complaint, Envela took a man's credit card from a FedEx copier in Pittsburgh after it was left there. Envela then used the card to pay for items at Wal-Mart, as well as charges at gas stations in Pennsylvania and Maryland, according to the complaint. Envela will soon finish a year-long stint in a Pennsylvania "Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition" program, which seeks to divert first-time offenders from the criminal justice program.

"I had unfortunately used a credit card that I wasn't authorized to use," Enevela says. "I started a process of restitution, which will be over soon. I accept full responsibility for that error."

But a shady history of crime doesn't end with Envela.

Williams, his longtime friend and campaign manager, is a member of one of Pittsburgh's most notorious crime families. In the 1990s, Williams' father ran a multi-million-dollar gambling empire in the city with his family. When he was caught in 1997, the younger Williams pled guilty to his role in the ring, and served six months probation.

"I ran numbers. It was an illegal gambling operation. That was it," Williams says. "My whole family was in it. They made a federal case out of it. It's nothing that I'm ashamed of, to be quite frank. My past is my past. There is nothing in my past that I am ashamed of to talk about."

Williams, who now owns eight parking lots in the Pittsburgh area, is listed as Envela's official campaign manager on his Foreign Agents Registration Unit (FARA) documents.