Equatorial Guinea is a tiny coastal country in West Africa, with a population of only half a million. Over the last decade it has become one of the biggest producers of oil in Africa and by some measures it has a higher GDP per capita than the UK, France and Germany. However, the majority of its people live in dire poverty; over half its population do not have access to safe water.
The country is ruled by a small and repressive political clique centred around President Teodoro Obiang. The President, who won re-election in 2009 with 95 percent of the vote, uses the country’s oil wealth to enrich himself and his family, while violently suppressing opposition and ignoring the suffering of ordinary Equatoguineans.
As early as 2003 Global Witness helped to expose how the Obiang regime had stashed millions of dollars in accounts at the prestigious Riggs bank in Washington DC. Our 2004 report Time For Transparency showed how Riggs had helped Obiang and his family buy three mansions just outside the American capital. Riggs was subsequently brought down in the aftermath of a Senate committee investigation into its activities banking for corrupt dictators including Obiang and Pinochet, and was sold off at huge discount.
Since then, Global Witness has repeatedly raised questions about how Equatorial Guinea’s natural resource wealth is managed and about the relationship between the regime and its bankers.
Our investigations have exposed how the President’s son and government minister, Teodorin Obiang, has spent millions of dollars on sustaining a playboy lifestyle in Europe and the U.S. while reportedly earning a government salary of only a few thousand dollars a month.
A number of banks, including Wachovia, Bank of America and UBS, allowed Teodorin to funnel over $100 million into the U.S. in a space of two years, which he used to buy a $35 million Malibu mansion and a $33 million private jet.
Global Witness also works as part of a coalition of concerned organisations to campaign against the proposed UNESCO-Obiang prize for life sciences. By awarding a prize financed by a president who abuses human rights and denies his people a way out of poverty, UNESCO is at grave risk of laundering the reputation of a brutal dictator.
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