Dictator Son’s $35m Mansion

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(The elder Obiang, the president. When you have oil, even if you're corrupt, people line up to kiss your...)

The Equatorial Guinean leader's son, who earns $60, 000 annually as agriculture minister, has bought a $35-million California mansion, according to a group tracking corruption in resource-rich developing countries.

Teodoro Nguema Obiang bought the home with an ocean view, 4-hole golf course, tennis court and swimming pool in February, Global Witness said on Wednesday, citing property and company records in Los Angeles. Global Witness investigates how exploitation of natural resources can fund conflict and corruption.

Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in Africa, after Nigeria and Angola, but its people are among the world's poorest. Its government has long been dogged by charges its officials are stealing oil money.

Obiang could not immediately be reached for comment on the Global Witness report. An adviser to Equatorial Guinea's government said Obiang was a businessman with independent sources of income before he became a Cabinet minister.
 The adviser spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The president's son bought the mansion in the name of Sweetwater Malibu, LLC, a company he wholly owns and manages, Global Witness said. Global Witness asked what steps the US administration could take against Obiang, in view of a US initiative launched in August to fight corruption by foreign public officials. In launching their initiative, US officials noted that corruption threatens both important American interests globally and that kleptocracy is a particular threat to developing nations.

"Given that the initiative makes provision for possible travel bans and asset seizure, this could be a good test case," Sarah Wykes, a London-based Africa specialist for the organization, told The Associated Press.

Global Witness also said Obiang already is fighting the seizure of two plush homes in a contract dispute in Cape Town, South Africa's seaside resort, and recently sent a sworn statement to the High Court there saying public officials in his country are allowed to participate in joint ventures with foreign companies bidding for government contracts and receive "a percentage of the total cost of the contract."

Global Witness said this meant "a Cabinet minister ends up with a sizable part of the contract price in his bank account," citing to a statement from Obiang to the court about the source of his wealth. The younger Obiang is widely expected to succeed his father, President Teodoro Obiang, who seized power from his uncle, and executed him, in 1979.

A former Spanish colony, Equatorial Guinea was of little interest to the outside world until oil was discovered in the 1990s. The country now earns about $3-billion a year from oil, Global Witness estimates. "On paper, its half-million population enjoys the second highest per capita income in the world a year, at $50, 200 but remains mired in poverty, the organization said.

President Obiang's government promised a more open accounting of public money in 2004, after revelations that $470-million of Equatorial Guinea's oil revenues were held in private accounts at Riggs Bank in Washington DC helped lead to the demise of the bank. But the government has not made good on its promise, and President Obiang still insists that oil revenues are a "state secret."

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