Press Release / Jan. 20, 2003

Does US Bank Harbour Equatorial Guinea’s Oil Millions In Secret Accounts? US Department of Justice must investigate.

Information published in today’s LA Times(1) indicates that a massive US$300-500 million of Equatorial Guinea’s(2) oil revenues may have been placed in a provincial Washington DC bank, under the control of President-for-life Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

The LA Times article, if true, gives an insight into why Equatorial Guinea’s oil money has not reached the ordinary people. It appears that President Obiang, who killed his murderous uncle to come to power in 1979, appears to have arranged for the country’s oil income to be deposited in the Dupont Circle branch of Riggs Bank in downtown Washington DC. It is suggested the account balance has been maintained at US$300-500 million, a significant proportion of the Equatorial Guinean oil wealth generated since offshore oil production began in 1996.

Although sources close to the President have confirmed the existence of this account, it is the allegation in the paper that President Obiang himself retains control over the account that is particularly damaging. If true, this makes this fund subject to his personal wim, and while not perhaps illegal, it would surely be a clear breach of acceptable international standards of fiduciary duty and responsibility where oil money should be paid into the national exchequer.

Documents in Global Witness’ possession reveal a close working relationship between the President, his family and the Dupont Circle branch of Riggs Bank. It is unclear if depositing these funds directly in Washington is technically illegal under Equatorial Guinea’s oil laws, Global Witness calls upon the US Department of Justice to investigate the nature of this bank account.

"Global Witness would like an explanation as to why the oil companies pay money directly into Riggs Bank, rather than the national exchequer. Further, how is the relationship between Riggs Bank, President Obiang, and his brother(3), consistent with the bank having carried out a thorough due diligence exercise as required by US law?" said Global Witness campaigner Gavin Hayman.

Major US and French oil companies working in the country, such as ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and TotalFinaElf, do not reveal any information about their legitimate revenue payments to the State. Global Witness believes this lack of transparency makes such companies complicit in the dispossession of ordinary Equatorial Guinean citizens because, without adequate financial information, it is not possible for Equatorial Guineans to call their government to account for missing funds.

Oil campaigner, Gavin Hayman added, "whilst most of Equatorial Guinea lives in dire poverty, President-for-life Obiang appears to have taken advantage of a rash of secret deals with US and French oil companies to privatize his country's oil wealth to support his brutal regime and his extravagant personal spending."

This case in Equatorial Guinea further highlights the urgency of Prime Minister Blair’s international transparency initiative taking place in February(4). "Here we have another example of the complete absence of government and corporate accountability totally denying ordinary Equatorial Guineans any benefit from oil exploitation," says Global Witness director, Simon Taylor. "The UK’s transparency initiative offers a real chance for change. However, it is essential that this once-in-a-life-time opportunity is not fatally weakened through a lack of will to bring in mandatory solutions. If the oil companies don’t publish what they pay, how can the people of Equatorial Guinea hold their government accountable for what they are due?"(5)

Contact Gavin Hayman or Simon Taylor on +44 (0)207 272 6731 or +44 (0)7957 142 121.

Editor’s notes:

(1) Global Witness focuses on the links between the exploitation of natural resources and the funding of conflict and corruption. It is non-partisan in all its countries of operation. Global Witness has been co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its leading work on ‘conflict diamonds’.

(2) The LA Times article "Oil Boom Enriches African Ruler" by Ken Silverstein, can be found at

(3) The continental shelf off the Equatorial Guinean island of Bioko, off the west coast of Africa, has become one of the world’s hottest areas of oil exploration. However, none of the wealth generated trickles down to the ordinary citizens of the country who really own the oil. Despite economic growth of about 70% per year, the country’s Human Development Index has remained unchanged and the vast majority of the population live in crushing poverty, earning less than one dollar a day. The UN’s Human Development Report for 2002 shows that the country’s Human Development Index ranking is some 79 places below its rank Gross National Product, far worse than any other country in the world. Evidence shows that Armengol Ondo Nguema, is certified by Riggs Bank as a "…valued customer..". He is also cited in various US State Department Human Rights reports as directing security forces to commit serious human rights abuses.

(4) The UK government has convened the ‘Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative’, headed by the Department for International Development (DFID), following Prime Minister Blair’s calls for transparency at the September 2002 WSSD conference in Johannesburg. The first meeting to include additional Governments and companies will take place in early February 2003.

(5) Global Witness is one of the founder members of the Publish What You Pay campaign of over 70 NGOs that are calling for governments, especially those in the G8, to take leadership and promote transparency over resource revenues worldwide (see ). The coalition is calling for Northern stock market regulators to require resource extraction companies to report their net payments to all governments and national authorities as a condition for being listed on stock markets.

(6) The International Monetary Fund has previously noted of Equatorial Guinea that: "the management of oil contracts lacks transparency, and there is no fiscal control over the payments due from, and paid by the oil companies". Recent IMF reports on the country have been refused publication by the Equatorial Guinean authorities. Clearly, they have something to hide.