- The US$ 700 million (5,000 billion franc CFA) that were frozen by the US Senate after the Equatoguinean Riggs Bank corruption scandal in July 2004, have now been released. This followed lobbying from Equatorial Guinea's government through the US oil companies operating in the country, sources close to Malabo authorities told 'El Muni'.
The unfreezing of funds took place in September, coinciding with the Equatoguinean dictator's visit to the UN. Information about this has however only started to leak out lately, as it is assumed that the secret may shock public opinion and international organisations working to fight corruption.
During the first quarter of 2005, Equatorial Guinea experienced a large cholera epidemic. Residents of the hard hit island of Bioko were told to address Washington and present themselves as victims - unable to fight the epidemic due to lack of public funds - and ask for the unfreezing of the millions blocked in the US following the Riggs Bank scandal.
Equatorial Guinea's deputy Prime Minister, Ricardo Mangué Obama, the Secretary of Treasury, José Oló Obono, and Dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema himself secured aid from parliament, which is totally dominated by the President's party. Together, they sent several petitions to the US Senate and the government, using sensible arguments.
Concretely, the Obiang regime, considered as one of the most corrupt in the world, claimed that the cholera epidemic on the island of Bioko - claiming 300 deaths in the first quarter of 2005 - was due to poor public finances. The diplomatic initiative referred to the crisis on Bioko, but funds were as usual planned for personal spending.
The documents sent to Washington in detail described the regime's economic incapacity to fight the epidemic, attend the sick and serve the population and hospitals with necessary medicines during the most mortal cholera outbreak since the mid-1990s. The document points out that "these funds" frozen in the US "belonged to the state and were deposited in Washington due to lack of guarantees from banks in Equatorial Guinea and Central Africa." Malabo went on asking for an immediate unblocking of the funds to be able to act against the cholera outbreak.
Nothing could however be further from truth. The public health situation is as chaotic as in 1979, when President Obiang took power in a coup, and his regime has never shown any interest in improving it. On the contrary, it has pout obstacles in the way for private initiatives to invest in the health sector. The country's large oil revenues, coming from a daily production of about 600,000 barrels per day, have not produced any positive changes to national health infrastructures.
Returning from the Unites States, President Obiang was shining of self-confidence on Malabo Airport. "The Americans will not stick with the money for long, and now where are those who were saying this money would never return to the country? The money belonged to the state and I never spent it for personal needs but had it safely stored, and where better than in the US," a euphoric Equatoguinean President told his followers.
However, the lion's part of the unfrozen funds has not returned to the country and has not been used as promised in the documents sent to Washington. The "Committee" of three - meaning the Secretary of Treasury, the deputy PM and the Dictator - has decreed the transfer of the funds to several destinations from the BEAC, the central bank of Central African states.
According to sources close to the Malabo government, a large part of the funds was sent to banks in China, Angola, Morocco and South Africa. Some US$ 20 million were said to have been transferred to Zimbabwe, to the private account of President Robert Mugabe, as a "thank you" for his "decisive" contribution to the alleged mercenary invasion planned in March 2003.
The unblocking of the funds from Riggs Bank include the funds transferred by the regime through the Spanish bank Banco Santander Central Hispano, which also had been frozen after a sub-commission of the US Senate had looked into the bank scandal.
In July 2004, a report from that sub-commission in clear language determined that the Malabo regime, supported by the North American oil companies operating in the country, had embezzled 60 percent of national revenues by sending them to more than sixty accounts in Washington's Riggs Bank opened by the Dictator himself, close family members and collaborators. Faced with scandal, the bank was forced to freeze the accounts.
The Riggs Bank case was considered the largest corruption scandal in history committed by a developing country on American soil. The scandal brought a wider focus on the crimes against humanity and systematic human rights abuses committed by the Obiang regime, financed through the oil revenues made possible through the engagement of US companies.
The Equatoguinean national economy is personally controlled by the Dictator and remains out of control for international institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. Malabo thus has no need to justify its economic policies, which cause poverty and desperation to increase while oil revenues are booming.
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