Today, the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations will release a report that paints a damning portrait of financial impropriety and sleaze centred on Equatorial Guinea’s oil accounts at Riggs Bank in Washington DC.
Riggs was recently fined US$25 million for failing to report suspicious transactions through bank accounts run by Equatorial Guinea’s dictatorial President Obiang, among others. Riggs was also involved in the purchase of luxury homes for Obiang and his brother, Armengol, named in State Department reports as a torturer.
Global Witness has long expressed concern that the total lack of transparency surrounding management of the country’s oil revenues may hide wholesale misappropriation of petrodollars by its ruling elite. The Subcommittee report compounds these suspicions.
Global Witness campaigner Sarah Wykes said, “although Equatorial Guinea has the world’s fastest growing economy on paper, its human development is actually going backwards. Now we know why: the money is offshore, out-of-sight and out-of-control. Allegations in the Senate report imply that, far from being a force for development, some oil companies are making this problem worse.”
The Senate report reveals that there were over 60 accounts in Riggs belonging to Obiang and his government containing a total of around US$700 million – much of the country’s oil income. At one point, Riggs accepted over US$11 million paid in from suitcases for an offshore account allegedly controlled by Obiang and his wife.
The report alleges that Riggs officials helped government figures set up offshore structures and shell companies to move money into tax havens. Bank records also show substantial payments by oil companies operating in Equatorial Guinea to the country’s officials, their family members and their businesses.
Global Witness now calls on the US Justice Department to investigate actively the allegations in the Senate report and bring those involved in looting the assets of the Equatoguinean people to justice.
Campaigner Gavin Hayman added: “If American oil companies and banks have been complicit in the misappropriation of oil money from Equatorial Guinea, then the US government must lead the clean-up. Secrecy surrounding oil revenues in countries like Equatorial Guinea undermines the very prosperity and stability that are key to US foreign policy goals in the region.”
The Subcommittee report calls on Congress to amend the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to require greater disclosure of payments by oil companies to this end. Global Witness believes this is a necessary step given that, to date, companies like Exxon and countries like Equatorial Guinea have cold-shouldered existing initiatives to improve revenue transparency.
Please call Gavin Hayman on +44 (0)207 561 6361/+44 (0)7957 142121 or Sarah Wykes on +44 (0)207 561 6362/+44 (0)7971 064433.
(1) Global Witness investigates 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 was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its leading work on ‘conflict diamonds’.
(2) See Global Witness’ 2004 report Time for Transparency for further details of corruption and misappropriation of oil revenues in Equatorial Guinea. www.globalwitness.org/reports/show.php/en.00049.html.
(3) Senator Carl Levin’s press release on the report can be found at http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/release.cfm?id=223923. Senator Levin is the ranking member on the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. The full report is available at http://govt-aff.senate.gov/_files/071504miniorityreport_moneylaundering.pdf
(4) The main international effort to improve the transparency of oil revenues is the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), launched by the United Kingdom in 2003. Global Witness wants the US and Equatoguinean governments to participate actively in the EITI. We believe that if companies publish what they pay to governments like Equatorial Guinea and those governments publish what they receive, then citizens would be able to track money into state budgets more effectively and hold their governments to account. More information is available at: www.dfid.gov.uk.
Press Release / July 15, 2004