Imagine one day you get handed a credit card. There’s no limit on the amount you can spend and you’ll never have to pay it back. Whatever you want, you can have it. It’s yours.
Cars? Not a problem.
Holidays and luxury shopping sprees? Whenever you want.
How about a state of the art customised $380 million super-yacht with a cinema, restaurant, bar, swimming pool and a security system complete with floor motion sensors, photoelectric barriers and fingerprint door openers? On order now.
It’s a situation most of us would like to be in – complete financial freedom.
Sounds like a fantastic dream doesn’t it? Not for Teodorin Obiang, the eldest son of President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea. In 1995 his life changed when oil reserves where discovered off the coast of his country.
Those dreams became his daily reality.
But here’s the catch.
He only ‘earns’ approximately $5000 per month or $60,000 per year. Yet despite this modest salary he is known to live a lavish lifestyle with multiple mansions, fancy cars and extravagant spending sprees and now has the world’s second most expensive yacht on order.
How is this possible?
To answer the question we need to go back a few years and look a little deeper.
Teodorin’s father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, took power in 1979 following a bloody coup toppling his own uncle in the process. Since then, he has presided over a bloody regime and personally enriched himself to the tune of $600 million. This has occurred all while the majority of Equatorial Guinea’s people live in poverty.
In 1991 the total amount of wealth generated by Equatorial Guinea came to the grand total of approximately $US 147 million. Following the discovery of oil the country’s GDP in 2008 was estimated to have risen to $18.5 billion. That’s an astonishing increase of 5,272 per cent.
Given then, Equatorial Guinea’s enormous oil wealth and population of just over half a million people you’d expect everyone to be living comfortable, safe and secure lives.
Indeed, if you divide their wealth by their population it turns out that the average Equatorial Guinean is worth approx $30, 000. This places them above people from Spain, Italy, South Korea and even New Zealand.
Unfortunately, statistics are one thing - the reality is another.
You’d think, that the government would invest that money in improving the lives of its citizens. That the wealth generated would go towards improving infrastructure and creating opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty. At the very least, the government would focus on health and education – the two central pillars of any healthy society.
The truth is – the exact opposite has happened.
Despite the astronomical oil wealth being generated by ExxonMobil, Marathon and other multinational giants 77 per cent of the population falls below the poverty line, 35 percent die before the age of 40, and 58 percent lack access to safe water.
In fact, so neglectful has their spending on essential social services been that the US Department of State concluded that ‘there is little evidence that the country’s oil wealth is being devoted to the public good.’
So where does Teodorin fit into this?
You’ll find that he’s right in the middle of it all. For example, between 2004 and 2006 he spent more than $42 milllion on luxury houses and cars – that’s nearly a third of the total amount the government spent on health, education and housing programs in 2005.
So how can he, his family and others pull this off?
The short answer: with our help.
In pictures: Take a look at this slide show.
In words: Here’s one example.
For over eight years a prestigious American institution, Riggs Bank helped them. It opened over 60 accounts for the government with at least half functioning as private banking accounts for senior E.G. officials or their family members. By 2003 the E.G. accounts represented the largest relationship at Riggs Bank with the total deposits ranging from $400 to $700 million at a time. It’s fair to say, they were valuable, if not the most valued, ‘customers’.
In fact, so pleased were top officials of Riggs Bank with their profitable relationship that they even wrote, in mid 2001 to Teodorin’s father, President Obiang a reassuring letter outlining his importance to them. The letter states that Riggs had ‘formed a committee of the most senior officers of Riggs Bank that will meet regularly to discuss our relationship with Equatorial Guinea and how best we can serve you.’
How do we know this?
We only know the contents of this letter and many others like it because Riggs were busted. In 2004 a Senate Committee exposed their illegal relationship with Equatorial Guinea. Whilst the Senate Committee exposed the extent of Riggs’ complicity it was powerless to return the wealth to the ordinary, impoverished citizens of Equatorial Guinea.
And this story doesn’t end there. If all the above wasn’t enough, Teodorin just last week commissioned plans to build a super-yacht worth $380 million – almost three times more than his energy-rich country spends annually on health and education programs combined. It means two things:
- Teodorin and his cronies continue to siphon off oil wealth for their private benefit
- This is only possible because countries like the US continue to provide a safe haven for the passage of him and his illicit private wealth.
How can we tackle corruption on this scale?
Currently, the people of Equatorial Guinea have no way of holding their government accountable for its actions. There’s no information and there is little meaningful or effective political opposition or freedom.
Rather than being spent on mansions, cars, clothes and even super-yachts this money generated by the oil wealth deserves to go to the people of Equatorial Guinea – the rightful owners.
That’s why the Global Poverty Project supports resource transparency. If the citizens of Equatorial Guinea know how much money they’re receiving from oil companies in payments then they’ll be able to demand better from their government. We’re committed to campaigning on this issue because the wealth being generated, if invested properly, will lift millions of people out of poverty.
So far we’ve got behind Anas Sarwar MP who tabled a Bill earlier this month calling for transparency of payments by oil, gas and mining companies.
Momentum is building and you can be a part of it. So join our movement for Justice and be a part of the change.