Saturday, November 13, 2010

Kleptomaniacs and Corrupt Practices

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

One of the good things about attending international conferences is that there are always new statistics to remember, new approaches presented to solve old problems, new materials and publications to bring back home, and new stories from other countries that really stick to your mind.

Global Witness (, a London-based advocacy group that carries out investigations in countries devastated by conflict, corruption and poverty certainly takes the cake as far as anti-corruption investigative reporting is concerned. Robert Palmer head of Global Witness’ Kleptocracy Campaign narrated some of their successful and unsuccessful campaigns to bring African kleptocrats to justice in the 14th International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) held in Bangkok recently.

The most shocking narrative involved the case of Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, or TNO for short, son of Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang who was accused in the report of having amassed wealth far beyond his salary as a public servant and have gone on to spectacular buying sprees in several continents.

In a publication entitled The Secret Life of a Shopaholic: How an African Dictator’s Playboy Son Went on a Multi-Million Dollar Shopping Spree in the US, TNO allegedly bought a $35M property in the reclusive Serra Retreat overlooking the Malibu Beach in California where he has Mel Gibson and Britney Spears as neighbours. Palmer notes that at his salary of $4,000-5,000 a month as Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, TNO would have taken between 580 to 730 years to save enough for this property.

Global Witness also obtained copies of cheques paid out of TNO’s account in Barclays Bank and BNP in Paris to buy, among other things: a Gulf Stream jet ($33 million), three Bugatti Veyron’s (1 for Paris, 1 for California, and a deposit for the 3rd car) at $1.3M each, two Rolls Royce Phantom’s ($350,000 each), four Ferraris ($240,000 each) a Bentley Arnage ($240,000), a 200 foot yacht, and speedboats. His father, President Obiang, was said to have paid $2.6M for a mansion in Maryland suburbs that has 10 bathrooms, seven fireplaces, and an indoor pool in 1979 and another house in the same area for $1.15M the next year.

Equatorial Guinea, fuelled by large oil and gas revenues, is a country that enjoys a per capita income of $37,200, higher than the Philippines and one of the highest in the world. Yet 77% of its population live in poverty, 35% die before age of 40, and 57% lack access to drinking water. A US State Department report in 2009 also documented unlawful killings by security forces, government sanctioned kidnappings, systematic torture of prisoners, arbitrary arrests, government corruption, and restrictions of political and civil rights in the country.

If you are shocked by this data, you will be more shocked to know that as late as 2006 President Obiang went to the US and met Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice who called him a “good friend of the US”. And until today, his son TNO walks a free man and will likely succeed him as Equatorial Guinea President soon.

It seems that in some countries, it pays to be corrupt!


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