A majority of people in the Republic of Congo get by on less than $1 a day, but money is no object for Denis Christel Sassou-Nguesso, the 24-year-old son of the country’s long-time ruler. The London-based group Global Witness has recently posted credit card bills racked up by Sassou-Nguesso,
the head of the state oil company’s marketing arm, that show he has racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in a global shopping spree. That includes stops in Paris (where he shopped at Louis Vuitton and stayed at the Bristol Hotel to Dubai (where he shopped at Rodeo Drive).
Young Sassou-Nguesso’s credit card bills were paid by Long Beach, an offshore company in Anguilla that he controls. Global Witness has found evidence that state oil revenues from the Congo have been flowing into the Long Beach account, which was established in 2004.
The Congo may be the only energy-rich nation in the world that is, more or less, shunned by the Bush Administration, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. That gives you some idea of the level of corruption and political misrule. But the Congo does have at least one friend in Washington: Michael Ledeen, the neo-conservative champion of the Iraq War and now the Freedom Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
A story last year in the New York Sun said that Ledeen was advising Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso in his capacity as an associate at the Trout-Cacheris law firm. I checked records at the Justice Department’s Foreign Agents Registration office and found that Trout-Cacheris had been paid $1.5 million by the Congolese government through mid-2006 (records are not available beyond that date). The story in the Sun said Ledeen had known Sassou-Nguesso since the late-1980s and quoted him as saying that the Congolese ruler was a “terrific African diplomat.”
That’s a very interesting assessment, given that the same year that Ledeen was touting his friend’s diplomatic skills, Freedom House, a conservative human rights group, downgraded the Congo’s civil liberties rating “due to a steady erosion of the rule of law, including the failure of the courts to sanction high-ranking military officials for a massacre of refugees.”