Dictator-tracker spices up Geneva planespotting

The Local
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Dictator-tracker spices up Geneva planespotting
File photo: eGuide Travel

A Swiss journalist has launched a Twitter-bot which tracks aircraft belonging to dictators landing at Geneva airport.


Investigative journalist François Pilet came up with the idea after writing an article for Swiss magazine Hebdo about a blacklisted airline being allowed to land at Geneva Cointrin airport.

According to Pilet the airline used by Africa’s longest-serving leader Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo flies regularly between Geneva and Equatorial Guinea despite being banned from European airspace by the European Union for not meeting international safety and security standards.

The leader's private jets also frequently land there, according to Pilet's research.

Wanting to highlight the issue, Pilet teamed up with his cousin, former Google engineer Julien Pilet, to create an automated Twitter-bot which tracks planes belonging to Obiang Nguema and other autocratic regimes.

The bot checks movements every hour and tweets every time one lands at Geneva airport.

Speaking to The Local, Pilet said the bot “could give another perspective about Geneva as an ‘international capital’.

“A lot of corrupt and/or autocratic regimes have a strong presence in Geneva, sometimes for legitimate political and diplomatic reasons, but sometimes for much less legitimate purposes, like hiding and spending the proceeds of corruption,” he said.

“These people’s dealings are protected by secrecy. I like very much the idea that each time that a leader of an autocratic regime is landing in Geneva on his private jet, the information is made public instantly.”

Pilet hopes the bot “will remind the public about the presence of these people in Geneva. Even if it’s difficult to have the answer, we should ask ourselves each time: why exactly are they coming here?”

Obiang Nguema seized power in Equatorial Guinea in 1979.

During his rule presidential elections have been marred by claims of fraud and irregularities, and both Obiang Nguema and his son have been subject to international investigations on charges of corruption including money laundering, embezzling public money and ‘ill-gotten gains’.

As well as tracking the planes belonging to Obiang Nguema, the bot is currently following those belonging to the governments of Kazakhstan, Libya, Cameroon, Azerbaijan and Belarus.


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