December 15, 2009

A recent article in a glossy magazine about the rich and famous mentioned a $35 million house in Malibu, California, whose neighbors include the actor Mel Gibson and the singer Britney Spears. The owner of this mega-monument to good taste and inconspicuous consumption turns out to be one Teodor Nguema Obiang, son of a man who goes by the same name with the tongue-twisting Mbasogo thrown in to tell them apart.

Obiang junior is 38 years old, and is paid $4000 per month back in the old country. He is obviously a man who counts his pennies because he paid for the house in cash, as he did when purchasing a Gulfstream V jet for $38 million, four Ferraris for $ 1 million, two Rolls-Royce Phantoms at $350,000 each, two Maybach Mercedeses at $350,000 each, couple of speedboats and a large yacht for prices unknown.

Not bad for a 38-year-old with a (very) limited education making 48,000 greenbacks per year. The man sure knows how to save. And spend. Mind you, we are living in a capitalist society, so why not. Teodor’s excesses might not be tolerated in today’s economic climate, but he’s no Wall Street executive. No Lloyd Blankfein he. He’s not even a Bernie Maddof. What he is, yes, you guessed it dear readers, is black, and better yet, a real, honest-to-goodness African.  His father is Teodor Nguema Obiang Mbasogo, president for life of Equatorial Guinea, and junior is his agricultural and forestry minister. Equatorial Guinea is a small coastal African country with a population of 500,000, most of whom live way below the poverty line but whose infant death rate is 93 percent, among the highest in the world. There is no clean water and no health services. Simon Mann, an English mercenary recently pardoned by Teodor senior (for a large yacht, I presume) reported his fellow jailbirds eating insects and rats, although he, being a European, got favorite treatment and was given grass and bread crumbs.

How does old man Obiang manage to live in a grand palace, have billions in American banks and be so generous with his penny-pinching son? That’s as hard to answer as trying to guess the motive that made Goldman Sachs give $500 million to help small businesses over five years last month. Equatorial Guinea has undergone an oil boom in recent years, which—on paper—has produced the highest per capita income in Africa. But for some strange reason its people continue to drink foul water, eat insects and rats, and watch while 93 percent of their children die of malnutrition and lack of health services.

Although African apologists like the vile self-publicist Bono might accuse the people of being masochists, the facts are very simple. Obiang has stolen the whole kit and caboodle while the oil companies, those nice guys who charged us more for their gas while oil prices were plunging, are happy to deposit the moolah in banks such as the Riggs Bank in Washington (it was fined 25 million dollars back in 2004 for accepting Obiang funds) Wachovia and Bank of America.

Here’s what Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, an otherwise pompous buffoon, had to say: “The fact that someone like Mr Obiang continues to travel freely here suggests strongly that the State Department is not applying the law…” And travel freely the Obiangs do. While their people starve, African crooks—Obiang is hardly alone—extort, steal and use corrupt methods to export millions in the hundreds and thousands to greedy bankers in Europe and America. They use shell corporations and off shore accounts to launder the money, and although Uncle Sam is aware of what is going on, the oil lobbies are busy protecting the thieves. Many payments of Equatorial Guinea oil and timber are made by western corporations directly to Obiang. He also receives bribes and extortion payments from the oil companies.

When I asked a past commissioner of customs why the U.S. government is turning a blind eye and only concentrates on drugs, I was told that “people can go without cocaine, but not without oil.” Worse is the fact that junior routinely travels to the United States with over a million in cash on his person which he fails to declare. A crime punishable up to five years in the pokey, but junior travels on a diplomatic passport, which I guess makes it okay.

Billions of western aid goes to poor African countries, but it never reaches the poor. Instead, it goes straight back to western banks and straight into the greedy pockets of people like the Obiangs. President Bongo of Gabon, now resting in that sauna-like place below, owned 15 enormous properties in France, had ten luxury cars and 70 bank accounts. Young Teodor obviously suffers from an inferiority complex to need such large cars and airplanes. My advice to him is to copy, say, Bill Kristol and John Podhoretz, and have a penile extension operation. Then purchase a mini. It might do wonders for his image.

But seriously. Equatorial Guinea has become the third largest oil producer in sub-Sahara Africa, with revenues of about 4.8 billion per year. Surely the Obama administration can do something about this bum, as well as the rest of the crooks in Africa. No more African aid until they cough up the stolen loot. Including the Malibu mansion, the jet, the yacht and the eight cars. And a little time in some federal prison to teach junior a lesson. But I won’t be holding my breath.     


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