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Obiangs, oil and oligarchy

The week in corruption, 16 July 2021

Teodoro Obiang at the 17th Ordinary African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. Image: Embassy of Equatorial Guinea / Flickr

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Last Sunday, we marked the African Anti-Corruption Day, designated by the African Union five years ago.

Many African countries have long struggled with high corruption levels. To counter the insidious trend, the African Union adopted a regional anti-corruption convention, AUCPCC. Almost two decades later, many countries are still falling behind in terms of its implementation.

Former South African president Jacob Zuma is currently sitting behind bars. His resignation in 2018 and subsequent state capture investigations are the victory of the people of South Africa. This year's African Anti-Corruption Day provides an opportunity to remind governments across the region about their commitments to provide space for citizens to demand accountability.

African Anti-Corruption Day 2021: Will governments enable citizens to join the fight?

There is no doubt that African governments need to do more. But Western nations cannot escape their responsibility for enabling and even fuelling corruption in Africa.

Collectively, African countries are estimated to be losing at least US$50 billion annually to illicit financial flows. These are billions that are funnelled through the global financial system and often end up parked in foreign bank accounts or real estate markets.

Take Equatorial Guinea, for example. We’ve written extensively about Teodorin Obiang – the son of the President of Equatorial Guinea, and also the country’s Vice President – whose taste for luxury has made him infamous worldwide.

But fresh revelations by courageous investigative journalists show a fuller picture of kleptocracy in Equatorial Guinea. A recent cross-border investigation exposed how Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima – the President’s other son, who also serves as the country’s oil minister – may have siphoned off millions in state funds and bribes abroad. Journalists tracked down an international web of shell companies and properties linked to Gabriel Lima, including a Cyprus company and its subsidiaries in other countries.

Another corruption investigation, released just yesterday, implicates two more individuals related to the Obiangs, who conveniently run Equatorial Guinea's state oil company. Journalists have connected the oil industry power couple to luxury properties around the world that even their hefty pay packages cannot explain. In Cyprus, for example, they reportedly own a EUR 2.5 million villa which they purchased to – you guessed right – obtain golden EU passports.

The international community needs to make it much more difficult, and eventually impossible, for the kleptocrats to enjoy proceeds of their crimes, deterring them to steal from their people in the first place.

That is exactly why we have been relentlessly and persistently calling on the advanced economies to put an end to secrecy in company ownership, to impose dissuasive sanctions against banks moving suspect funds, to tackle opacity in investment and real estate industries, and to stop the abuse of scandalous passport schemes.

But the corrupt and their enablers have little interest in changing the status quo and, at the same time, enormous resources to lobby against our proposals.

Transparency International is taking the fight to them. And we need all the support we can get in disrupting transnational corruption that hurts people in countries like Equatorial Guinea the most.

Scaling up our work globally is only possible with your support.

In our fight against the bad guys, every dollar makes the difference.

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