Disclosure of the purchase of a 35-million dollar home in the exclusive community of Malibu, California by the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Nguema Obiang is producing calls for US officials to investigate. The anti-graft watchdog group Global Witness tracked the sale and asked how Teodorine Nguema Obiang, the government Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, can afford to buy the estate on a 60-thousand dollar annual salary. In Washington, Global Witness policy adviser Sasha Lezhnev says that his organization is raising the case to sustain the rights of populations in poverty stricken, resource-rich countries, whose governments need to be held accountable for caring for their citizens’ basic needs.
“Global Witness is very interested in trying to make sure that accountability and transparency mechanisms are set up in oil and gas producing countries so that the revenues from those natural resources can actually go to the local populations and help benefit the peoples of those countries. And so we’ve seen a situation in Equatorial Guinea which has such a small population, but such large oil revenues, despite them having a per capita income on paper of more than fifty-thousand dollars a year, which is almost double what we have here in the United States. But their poverty on the ground is that over fifty per cent of the population cannot access drinkable water. Over half of the population still lives on less than a dollar a day,” he said.
Global Witness tracked the home sale by President Obiang’s son to the same Malibu compound where pop entertainer Britney Spears owns property. It sports an ocean view, a 4-hole golf course, tennis court, and swimming pool. Equatorial Guinea is the third largest Sub-Saharan African nation to export oil to the United States. Spokesman Lezhnev says the purchase is just the latest extravagance which has enabled government officials to dispose of the bonus revenues they receive in exchange for trading oil concession rights to American companies.
“The government of Equatorial Guinea was closely implicated in the Riggs Bank scandal in 2004, which helped bring down Riggs Bank. And the United States should definitely engage to hold the government to account for the kind of promises it’s made in getting its oil money and oil revenues managed and accounted for in a transparent fashion. Basically, the Riggs Bank was holding five to seven hundred million dollars of the government’s accounts, and the procedures for insuring that no suspicious transactions were taking place were not there at all. The (US) Senate found that over sixteen million dollars was transferred from government accounts to personal accounts, that several relatives of government officials had accounts in Riggs also, and monies were transferred back and forth to them, and some of the accounts were also in the name of the Presdent’s son,” he said.
Global Witness adviser Sasha Lezhnev says that sworn testimony before a court in South Africa by President Obiang’s son exposes additional evidence of a culture of institutionalized corruption being practiced. The South African case involved that government’s seizure of other luxury properties. In defense of the extravagances, the younger Obiang testified that in Equatorial Guinea, public officials are permitted to take part in joint ventures with foreign companies bidding for government contracts and, if successful, receive a percentage of the profits. Lezhnev says that American action to thwart the California purchase would be a good test for a US anti-kleptocracy initiative enacted last August to seize assets and impose travel bans to eliminate corruption by foreign public officials.
“As I understand it, it’s a US interagency effort to try to combat the looting of assets, and Equatorial Guinea has long been referred to as a kleptocracy, much before the August initiative from the White House. And so, I think that in light of both the South African court revelations, as well as the news that Mr. Obiang is purchasing a 35-million dollar mansion in the United States that the US would be well served to investigate and take some action,” he said.
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