Spain Investigates President of Equatorial Guinea for Laundering Oil Money

MADRID, Spain—After thirty years of corrupt rule in Equatorial Guinea, the courts are finally taking a serious look at what the ruling family does with the nation's oil wealth, said the Open Society Justice Initiative today. An investigation is currently underway into millions of dollars of oil revenues allegedly siphoned off by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea to purchase real estate in Spain.

The Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España, a Spanish human rights organization, filed a criminal complaint last October in Spain's National Court (Audiencia Nacional) against 11 relatives and close political associates of President Obiang. The complaint details how the country's oil revenues were allegedly used to purchase real estate in Spain, including in the Canary Islands.

"While many countries turn a blind eye to large-scale corruption, this investigation shows that no one is above the law," said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which helped research the criminal complaint.

Equatorial Guinea is the third largest oil and gas producer in sub-Saharan African, and earns well over $4 billion annually from its abundant hydrocarbon deposits. Monitoring groups estimate that President Obiang has controlled more than $16 billion worth of oil proceeds since he took power in 1979 while the majority of Equatoguineans live on less than $1 per day.

"Under the corrupt and oppressive rule of President Obiang, the people of Equatorial Guinea have little recourse for justice," said Manuel Ollé Sesé, president of APDHE.

Early this summer the case was transferred by Spanish magistrates to a court in the Canary Islands.

APDHE, the Justice Initiative, and the human rights group EG Justice are also involved in a novel legal challenge against the government in the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. The groups assert that the Obiangs' diversion into its own hands of the bulk of the country's natural resources violates the Equatoguinean people's rights to develop their own natural resources. A decision on whether or not the case will be heard is expected in November.

Several other ongoing legal challenges allege that President Obiang misused oil revenues, including a case in France brought by the anti-corruption organizations SHERPA and Transparency International.

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The Open Society Justice Initiative, an operational program of the Open Society Institute, pursues law reform activities grounded in the protection of human rights, and contributes to the development of legal capacity for open societies worldwide. The Justice Initiative combines litigation, legal advocacy, technical assistance, and the dissemination of knowledge to secure advances in the following priority areas: anticorruption, equality and citizenship, freedom of information and expression, international justice, and national criminal justice. Its offices are in Abuja, Budapest, London, New York, and Washington DC.