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Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Earth-Info.Net does not normally publish entire press releases but this one from Global Witness entitled "Does US bank harbour Equatorial Guinea’s oil millions in secret accounts? " really deserves to be made available in it's complete form...

Information published in yesterday’s LA Times indicates that a massive US$300-500 million of Equatorial Guinea’s oil revenues may have been parked in a provincial Washington DC bank, under the control of President-for-life Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

The LA Times article, if true, gives an insight into why Equatorial Guinea’s oil money has not reached the ordinary people. It appears that President Obiang, who killed his murderous uncle to come to power in 1979, has arranged for the country’s oil income to be deposited in the Dupont Circle branch of Riggs Bank in downtown Washington DC. It is suggested the account balance has been maintained at US$300-500 million, a significant proportion of the Equatorial Guinean oil wealth generated since offshore oil production began in 1996.

Although sources close to the President have confirmed the existence of this account, it is the allegation in the paper that President Obiang himself retains control over the account that is particularly damaging. If true, this makes this fund subject to his personal whim, and while not perhaps illegal, it would surely be a clear breach of acceptable international standards of fiduciary duty and responsibility where oil money should be paid into the national exchequer.

Global Witness would like an explanation as to why the oil companies pay money directly into Riggs Bank, rather than the national exchequer. Further, how is the relationship between Riggs Bank, President Obiang, and his brother, consistent with the bank having carried out a thorough due diligence exercise as required by US law?” said Global Witness campaigner Gavin Hayman. Documents in Global Witness’ possession reveal a close working relationship between the President, his family and the Dupont Circle branch of Riggs Bank.

It is unclear if depositing these funds directly in Washington is technically illegal under Equatorial Guinea’s oil laws, Global Witness calls upon the US Department of Justice to investigate the nature of this bank account.

Major US and French oil companies working in the country, such as ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and TotalFinaElf, do not reveal any information about their legitimate revenue payments to the State.

Global Witness believes this lack of transparency makes such companies complicit in the dispossession of ordinary Equatorial Guinean citizens because, without adequate financial information, it is not possible for Equatorial Guineans to call their government to account for missing funds.

Oil campaigner, Gavin Hayman says: “Whilst most of Equatorial Guinea lives in dire poverty, President-for-life Obiang appears to have taken advantage of a rash of secret deals with US and French oil companies to privatize his country's oil wealth to support his brutal regime + his extravagant personal spending.” This case in Equatorial Guinea further highlights the urgency of Prime Minister Blair’s international (extractive industries) transparency initiative taking place in February.

“Here we have another example of the complete absence of government + corporate accountability totally denying ordinary Equatorial Guineans any benefit from oil exploitation.” says Global Witness director, Simon Taylor. “The UK’s transparency initiative offers a real chance for change. However, it is essential that this once-in-a-life-time opportunity is not fatally weakened through a lack of will to bring in mandatory solutions. If the oil companies don’t publish what they pay, how can the people of Equatorial Guinea hold their government accountable for what they are due?”

Please see the Global Witness's referenced press release + the Publish What You Pay website for more details...