UNESCO Warned on Obiang Probe Risk

The Open Society Justice Initiative and three other organizations have warned the board of UNESCO that using funds for a proposed science prize honoring President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea risks involving the UN’s main educational and cultural body in ongoing criminal investigations into allegations of corruption.

The letter strongly urges UNESCO’s board “to take no action on the prize that would include, encourage or in any way approve or foster the use or spending of monies forwarded to UNESCO to fund this prize until a thorough investigation can be completed to ensure that the prize funding does not represent proceeds of illicit or criminal activities.”

The letter also draws attention to the seizure of 11 luxury cars owned by the Obiang family in Paris by French police on Wednesday, 29th September, in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation.

The four groups—Open Society Justice Initiative, Association Sherpa, Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España and EG Justice—point out that the $3 million funding offered for the proposed prize appears not to come from the government of Equatorial Guinea, but from the Obiang Nguema Mbasogo Foundation for the Preservation of Life, whose legal status as a private or public entity is not clear.

"It appears that this funding may not have come from the member state itself,” the letter states. The four groups also say it remains unclear whether UNESCO has adequate internal standards to review funding offers in accordance with international standards on anti-money laundering.

The $3 million UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences was set up in 2008 but has never been awarded. Implementation of the prize was frozen pending further discussion in June 2010. In October, the UNESCO Executive Board voted to suspend it until a consensus on the matter could be reached by member states.