The Open Society Justice Initiative is urging the U.S. Department of Justice to expand its anti-kleptocracy efforts by examining the role of international intermediaries such as bankers, lawyers, and accountants who collude in transactions evidently financed by the profits of corruption.
Kenneth Hurwitz, senior legal officer at the Justice Initiative, said he welcomed the Justice Department's move, announced this week, to seize over $70 million in assets from Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, son of the president of Equatorial Guinea. But he said that fighting high-level corruption also required a broader effort.
“These proceedings mark an extremely important beginning. Targeting the ill-gotten gains of kleptocrats is critical. But the corruption inside a country like Equatorial Guinea is only one side of the coin."
The forfeiture case follows two U.S. Senate investigations and criminal proceedings in Spain and France into corruption in Equatorial Guinea, all of which have identified serious indications of massive corruption by senior officials. But the 2010 U.S. Senate report also found that from 2004-2008, Teodorin Obiang “used U.S. lawyers, bankers, real estate agents, and escrow agents to move over $110 million in suspect funds into the United States.”
"The wholesale theft of national wealth by corrupt government officials could not take place without the collusion of sophisticated networks of multi-national enterprises and global financial institutions, lawyers, accountants, and others who share in the spoils,” Hurwitz said.
The Justice Department is seeking assets including a $30 million Malibu mansion, a $38 million private jet, and $3 million of Michael Jackson memorabilia owned by Teodorin Obiang, whose official salary as Minister of Forestry is less than $7,000 per month.
Despite Equatorial Guinea’s average per capita GDP of $36,600 from oil and natural gas production, more than three-quarters of the population live in poverty, according to the IMF. Equatoguineans have a life expectancy of 51 years.
President Obiang’s government is among the most repressive in the world. The 2010 U.S. Department of State human rights report accused his government of carrying out summary executions, abductions and torture, and found "official corruption at all levels of government.”