It will be interesting to see if the State Department, which by order of a presidential proclamation and act of congress is required to bar corrupt foreign officials from American territory, will finally take action on Teodoro Nguema Obiang. As I reported here yesterday, the Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have compiled a laundry list of gross misconduct on Obiang, the son of the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, a major oil producer and site of billions in investments by U.S. energy firms.
Obiang, sometimes known as Teodorin, earns the equivalent of about $5,000 monthly as minister of agriculture and forestry (or the minister of chopping down trees, as some of his critics call it). Yet documents from the investigation show that he has used shell corporations to move tens of millions of dollars into the U.S., helping him buy a $35 million estate in Malibu, a $33 million plane and a fleet of luxury cars. “[I]t is suspected that a large portion of Teodoro Nguema OBIANG’s assets have originated from extortion, theft of public funds, or other corrupt conduct,” said a Justice Department document from 2007. A second document from that same year, produced by ICE, said, investigators hoped to “identify, trace, freeze, and recover assets within the United States illicitly acquired through kleptocracy by Teodoro Obiang and his associates,” and to “deny safe haven in the United States to kleptocrats.”
Yet the State Department, which can at least bar Obiang from enjoying the loot he has accumulated here, has done zero to keep him out. “The least they could do is cut off his shopping privileges by denying him entry into the United States,” Jack Blum, an attorney and former Senate counsel, commented to me about Obiang’s case. “Where the hell is the U.S. government?”
“Natural resources are the only significant source of wealth in many developing nations, and we have seen how easily the proceeds can be exploited by government officials for their own self interest,” Senator Patrick Leahy, who played a key role in passing the congressional amendment barring corrupt officials from entering the United States, commented. “Some of these despots have used this ill gotten wealth to live in luxury in the United States. We should not facilitate their crimes against their own people, and we have every right and obligation to deny them entry.”
I contributed reporting to a lengthy study released yesterday by Global Witness, which obtained the U.S. documents from the case of Teodorin. The documents were also reported on by the New York Times.