Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Rampant corruption, 11 foreigners and $1m bonuses: Why nobody should support Equatorial Guinea on Saturday
WHEN Equatorial Guinea take the field for their CAF quarter-final on Saturday in their capital Malabo, look carefully at the names on offer. And the money on offer.
You may find that NOT ONE of the co-host's players was born in the country they are representing. That their vice-president’s $1m bonus for every win is going out of the country as fast as the rest of Equatorial Guinea’s oil revenue.
On Supersport, we’ve twice seen Benni McCarthy offering glib approval of Equatorial Guinea’s ridiculous bonuses. The Orlando Pirates veteran told Robert Marawa: “It’s great, anybody will perform for that kind of money!” But hold on Benni, what’s really going on here?
Just how does Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangu, the son of the president, manage to find the cash to pay $1m for a win and $20,000 per goal to his lowly-ranked players from every nation except his own?
And exactly how did his tiny nation manage to produce a squad of players which features six Spaniards, an Ivorian, a Cameroonian, two Brazilians and only a smattering of actual so-called Equatoguineans? On January 18, barely a week before the big kick-off in Bata, former coach Henri Michel reportedly resigned over Teodoro interfering with his squad, with Brazilian Gilson Paulo taking over. I guess he speaks the language – he has already had his lucrative contract extended by the kindly vice-president.
Perhaps we should be asking too, how a nation smaller than Swaziland managed to see off Nigeria in the bidding for the competition, given that they had never qualified for the finals before. Bit like 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar I guess.
But no, we must ask no questions. When the hosts (ranked 150th in the world by FIFA) take on Ivory Coast (16th) in their surprise quarter-final on Saturday, we shall take the line FIFA took: It’s nothing to do with us, CAF look after the African Nations Cup.
So we must simply accept that Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure and Co will be playing a mercenary army on Saturday. When they upset highly-fancied Senegal last Wednesday, their winner was scored by a Spanish Fourth Division striker called Kily.
They also boasted a Brazilian goalkeeper, a Liberian defender, an Ivorian midfielder and a Cameroonian forward, as well as a host of Spanish players.
Go through the names in their 23-man squad and you’ll find only third choice goalkeeper Felipe Ovono and reserve defender Jose Bokung were born in Equatorial Guinea.
They call their team “National Lightning” but by thunder, they haven’t struck twice in the same place since 2004 when a Brazilian called Antonio Dumas took over as national team coach.
Dumas was the guy who used to run the equally dodgy Togo national side. He introduced several “foreigners” there, many from Latin America and claims he was encouraged by the Equatorial Guinea government to do the same with his new side after disappointing performances in CAF and the World Cup.
A former Spanish colony, the trend was set. Passports and work permits were granted to virtually any footballer who was willing to gain citizenship and play for the oil-rich nation.
Take journeyman defender Lawrence Doe. A veteran of a dozen professional clubs all over the world, he never managed to break into the Liberia side.
He insists: "I feel very happy and very proud because even though I was born Liberian I am now a Guinean. Equatorial Guinea is my home, I have my wife and son here now.
"I am a Guinean, they take care of me, the government take care of me here.”
But nobody seems to care what the locals think, the president and his son have made sure of that over the last 32 years of dictatorship – the longest in the world since the departure of Colonel Ghadaffi in Liya.
Teodorin, the popular name given the son of president Teodoro Nguema Obian Mangue (like North Korean dictarors, they like to keep the naming convention simple) is an expert at cleaning oil soaked millions.
Though he claims to be paid a mere $7,000 a month for his role as minister of agriculture and forestry in the tiny oil-rich enclave, Teodorin is watched carefully by an organisation called Human Rights Watch. On October 6 last year, the US Justice Department filed an official notice in California of a pending claim for the forfeiture of more than $70 million in assets, including a mansion, jet, and Michael Jackson memorabilia belonging to the younger Mr. Obiang.
Though living standards are low in Equatorial Guinea, Teodorin likes to live the highlife on his meagre salary. And pay his football team huge bonuses. But Arvind Ganesan, a director at Human Rights Watch says: “US authorities have turned up stark evidence of corruption by President Obiang and several of his family members in multiple investigations since 2003. The move to go after his son’s US assets, though belated, is a good step.”
And it’s not just in the US that Teodorin makes hay. He is also being investigated in France and Spain, along with his dad, Obian family members and close friends.
The Justice Department initiated the investigation in 2007, following a US Senate investigation from 2003 to 2004. The Justice Department’s legal action names Sweetwater Malibu LLC, a company belonging to Teodorín Obiang, and seeks the forfeiture of a variety of valuable assets, including a $30 million Malibu mansion, a $38.5 million jet, seven luxury cars worth almost $3 million and valuable Michael Jackson memorabilia, such as “one white crystal-covered ‘Bad Tour’ glove.”
The US investigation centres on the “Riggs Bank Report” which was reported by Senate to have “turned a blind eye to evidence suggesting it was handling the proceeds of corruption”.
Essentially, millions of dollars of Equatorial Guinea’s national oil revenues were transferred to a private offshore account that Senate investigators concluded was controlled by President Obiang.
Now the Immigration and Customs department have declared they will “identify, trace, freeze and recover assets within the United States illicitly acquired through kleptocracy by Teodoro Nguema Obiang and/or his associates.”
They believe Teodorín Obiang laundered more than $110 million in suspect funds through US bank accounts between 2004 and 2008. They also claim he transported 22 vehicles out of the US to Equatorial Guinea via France in 2009, according to a Le Monde report, citing customs records. Oh, and there was a party with a tiger in California which cost untold millions too.
Neither the government of Equatorial Guinea nor Teodorín have responded publicly to the news of the pending asset forfeiture action, though in 2010 Obiang’s government released a statement saying the allegations are clearly “clearly RACIST, XENOPHOBIC, ARROGANT and SEGREGATIONIST” (their capital letters) while expressing “complete support, confidence and backing” for Teodorín.
The French are worried too. According to Le Monde last year, French police have catalogued Teodorin’s recent purchase of nearly $26 million on antiquities and other goods at auction.
And then there’s Swaziland. Police there opened an investigation into the theft in late August of a suitcase belonging to the younger Mr Obiang that reportedly contained some $400,000 in cash ($300,000 in dollars and 75,000 euros) and two expensive wristwatches. He reported the suitcase stolen from the five-star villa where he was staying during a visit.
BREAK OUT ON EQUATORIAL GUINEA
Equatorial Guinea, with high oil revenues and a tiny population, has one of the highest per capita gross domestic product ratios in the world.
. But the government has failed to make improvements in socio-economic conditions commensurate with available resources.
The per capita GDP is equivalent to that of some of the worlds’ top-tier economies yet many of the people of Equatorial Guinea lack access to basic social services. The country is 19th worst in the world for child mortality, according to 2010 UN and World Bank statistics. Education spending as a percentage of GDP is lower in Equatorial Guinea than in neighboring countries. The government has invested huge sums in high-profile projects, such as ultra-modern hospitals, luxury conference centers, and a lavish $830 million resort complex built to host the June 2011 African Union summit meeting that have little benefit for the poor.
After Human Rights Watch published a 2009 report on oil, corruption and human rights in Equatorial Guinea that detailed government abuses and the lack of transparency, the Obiang government responded by accusing the group of “blackmail” and “pulling from their sleeves information that lacks all transparency and objectivity.”
The US State Department’s human rights report for 2010 describes an array of serious abuses, including unlawful killings, systematic torture, and official impunity and denounces “official corruption at all levels of government” in Equatorial Guinea, specifying that “[t]he president and members of his inner circle continued to amass personal profits from the oil windfall.”
The legal proceedings involving Teodorín Obiang come as speculation mounts that he is being positioned to succeed his father in power. On October 14, the Obiang government set a November 13 date for a referendum on proposed changes to the constitution. The centerpiece of the announced reform is the introduction of term limits that would allow the 69-year-old President Obiang, who has been president for the past 32 years, to serve for two more terms of 7 years each.
President Obiang was re-elected in 2009 with 95.4 percent of the vote in an election with weak international monitoring, raising “the suspicion of systematic voting fraud” according to the US State Department.
While the government has not yet published a text of the constitutional changes that will go to a vote, they are understood to create a new post for a vice-president that observers expect will be filled by Teodorín Obiang.
In 2010, Teodorín Obiang was elected to head the ruling party’s youth wing, which automatically conferred on him the vice-presidency of the ruling party. The US public relations firm that represents the government of Equatorial Guinea and also has a separate contract with the younger Mr. Obiang, hailed his selection as “part of a broader effort by the government to improve the democratic election process for its citizens.”
Along with declaring the date of the national referendum, Equatorial Guinea also announced that Teodorín would be its deputy permanent delegate to the Paris-based United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). President Obiang has unsuccessfully sought to reinstate a controversial UNESCO prize financed by and named after him. The senior Obiang’s most recent effort to force UNESCO to issue the award, in September, was scuttled in part because news of the seizure of Teodorín’s assets in Paris, a short distance from UNESCO’s headquarters, highlighted the risk of associating the organization with the reputations of the Obiangs.
“The people of Equatorial Guinea should be able to choose their government in free and fair elections, hold it accountable, and apply the country’s wealth to fulfill their basic needs,” Ganesan said. “Unfortunately, President Obiang does not provide leadership that respects such basic rights, and his son seems to be following his father’s path.”