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Equatorial Guinea’s President Mbasogo must reveal his assets for an IMF bailout

Bloomberg Abidjan | Updated on December 27, 2019 Published on December 27, 2019

A file photo of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, President of Equatorial Guinea.   -  Bloomberg

As recently as 2017, Equatorial Guinea was as rich in per-capita terms as Spain, its former colonial master. Today, the nation is struggling to pay its debts.

Equatorial Guinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the world’s longest-serving ruler, must declare his assets before the nation receives more financial support, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The central African nation needs an IMF bailout to deal with a crisis that shrank its economy by a third to $13 billion last year. Under a programme agreed last week, the state will be required to increase transparency, improve governance and implement reforms to fight corruption, Lisandro Abrego, the lender’s mission chief for Equatorial Guinea, said in an interview.

Authorities will implement an asset-declaration regime for senior public officials as part of the programme’s requirements, he said by phone from Washington. “It’s our understanding that the law will apply to all senior government officials.”

Obiang, in power since August 1979, has been accused by prosecutors in the US and France of squandering the tiny Central African nation’s vast oil wealth. As recently as 2017, Equatorial Guinea was as rich in per-capita terms as its former colonial master Spain. Today, OPEC’s smallest member is struggling to pay its debts after oil prices collapsed in 2014. The government has piled up arrears with construction firms of almost 19 per cent of its gross domestic product, according to the World Bank.

“The economy has been hit hard by the decline in oil and gas prices, which has affected export earnings and led to a virtual depletion of foreign assets,” Lisandro said. “The economy has also been affected by long standing governance and corruption problems.”

“Audits by the government of state-owned oil and gas companies are already under way and should be completed by mid-2020,” Lisandro said. “All active oil and gas contracts are expected to be made public by March,” he said.

Calls and text messages to Finance Minister Cesar Mba Abogo seeking comment went unanswered. A Finance Ministry official did not reply to questions sent by text message.

Risks

The IMF last week gave the green light to a $280 million loan. That is about the same amount Obiang’s oldest son and vice president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, spent between 2000 and 2011 buying luxury properties on four continents and assets including Michael Jackson memorabilia, the US Department of Justice said in a 2013 money-laundering case that was settled the following year.

He received a three-year suspended jail term and a $35 million fine from a French court in 2017 for spending tens of millions of dollars in public funds on a mansion, sports cars and jewellry. In September, Swiss authorities raised $27 million in an auction of exclusive cars they had seized from him, including a limited-edition Lamborghini Veneno roadster that sold for $8.4 million. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The IMF has already provided $40 million of the bailout funding.

Human-rights and anti-corruption advocates have questioned why the IMF is lending its credibility to a regime with no previous record of serious reform, Sarah Saadoun, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in an interview.

“With no external pressure, besides the IMF, there’s a risk that the loan will fund the same lifestyle that the oil money has upheld for the past 40 years,” Saadoun said by phone from New York.

Published on December 27, 2019
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