Levin Urges UN to Reconsider Award Named for Equitorial Guinea’s President Obiang

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., today wrote a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon voicing his concern regarding the proposed UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences.   As chairman of the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Levin has examined how U.S. bankers, lawyers, and others have handled multi-million-dollar accounts opened by President Obiang, his son, and other family members, and highlighted concerns about the source of the funds, large cash deposits and transfers, and suspect transactions. 

In his letter, Levin writes: “Instead of naming an international award for President Obiang, the United Nations would do better to condemn the corruption in Equatorial Guinea and redouble its efforts to convince Mr. Obiang and his son to use the country’s oil wealth to improve the lives of their population.” 

            The text of Levin’s letter follows:

October 13, 2010

His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon

Secretary General

The United Nations

1st Avenue at 46th Street

New York, NY  10017

Dear Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon:

In recent weeks, I have been following concerns raised about the proposed UNESCO-Obiang Nguema Mbasogo International Prize for Research in the Life Sciences.  This prize caught my attention because the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, has had occasion to become familiar with President Obiang’s work and reputation.   Naming an international award after Mr. Obiang is not worthy of the United Nations.

Mr. Obiang’s tenure in office has been marked by human rights abuses since its inception.  He assumed power in a coup 30 years ago, his political opponents have been jailed and tortured, and his subsequent elections have been marred by fraud and intimidation.  The 2008 Transparency International corruption perceptions index ranked Equatorial Guinea 171 out of 180 nations, indicating that, under Mr. Obiang’s 30-year rule, it is one of the most corrupt countries in the world today.

It is also notable that Equatorial Guinea enjoys substantial wealth, yet most of its population is mired in poverty.  Equatorial Guinea is now the third largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.  In 2008, its revenues topped $7 billion, 81% of which came from oil revenues.  Although those revenues make Equatorial Guinea, on a per capita basis, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, it ranks 121 out of 179 nations on the United Nations Human Development Index.  Its citizens have a low life expectancy and suffer from the 17th highest infant mortality rate in the world.  According to the World Bank, nearly 40 percent of its children under the age of five are malnourished and only 44 percent of the population has access to safe drinking water.  Poverty is widespread.

Over the last five years, two investigations conducted by my Subcommittee have had reason to examine matters related to Equatorial Guinea, President Obiang, and his son, the heir apparent.  The first investigation, described in a July 2004 hearing and report entitled, “Money Laundering and Foreign Corruption: Enforcement and Effectiveness of the Patriot Act,” focused on a U.S. financial institution in Washington, D.C. called Riggs Bank and its failure to implement effective anti-money laundering controls.  The investigation detailed, in part, how President Obiang and certain family members had established offshore shell corporations to open accounts at the bank; made large cash deposits to their Riggs accounts of as much as $3 million at a time; and caused over $35 million to be transferred from a Riggs account holding the country’s oil revenues to suspect offshore accounts. 

A second investigation concluded in a February 2010 hearing and report entitled, “Keeping Foreign Corruption Out of The United States:  Four Case Histories.”  One of the case histories involved Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, President Obiang’s son.  The investigation disclosed that from, 2004 to 2008, with assistance from U.S. lawyers, bankers, and real estate and escrow agents, President Obiang’s son was able to move over $110 million in suspect funds from Equatorial Guinea into the United States.  Those funds were used to support a lavish lifestyle, including the purchase of a $30 million mansion in Malibu, California, and a $38 million Gulfstream jet.  The investigation also learned that the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security had opened a criminal investigation into Mr. Obiang’s son to examine allegations involving “extortion, bribery … misappropriation, theft, or embezzlement of public funds.”  I am enclosing copies of both Subcommittee hearing records for your review. 

Instead of naming an international award for President Obiang, the United Nations would do better to condemn the corruption in Equatorial Guinea and redouble its efforts to convince Mr. Obiang and his son to use the country’s oil wealth to improve the lives of their population. 

Sincerely,

Carl Levin

Chairman

U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

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