Last week I was back in the United States and spend time on both coasts, first to the east and then to the west. Shortly after flying into Los Angeles International Airport, I visited Malibu on a short drive up the coast, and enjoyed a milk shake on the end of a long pier that shoots out into the Pacific Ocean.
I was with family, and while we walked back from the pier to the shore, we looked up to see a truly palacial home on top of a nearby hill overlooking the beach. The house was beautiful and enormous, and we openly wondered who owned it — Hollywood movie star? Ambulance chasing lawyer? Successful investment banker?
We should have included son of corrupt dictator in that discussion, because less than a week after our visit, that very house and its owners appeared in the New York Times. Below is a photograph of the house, in the center, and the pier. An abridged version of the story appears below.
Several times a year, Teodoro Nguema Obiang arrives at the doorstep of the United States from his home in Equatorial Guinea, on his way to his $35 million estate in Malibu, Calif., his fleet of luxury cars, his speedboats and private jet. And he is always let into the country.
The nation’s doors are open to Mr. Obiang, the forest and agriculture minister of Equatorial Guinea and the son of its president, even though federal law enforcement officials believe that “most if not all” of his wealth comes from corruption related to the extensive oil and gas reserves discovered more than a decade and a half ago off the coast of his tiny West African country, according to internal Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement documents.
And they are open despite a federal law and a presidential proclamation that prohibit corrupt foreign officials and their families from receiving American visas. The measures require only credible evidence of corruption, not a conviction of it.
Former and current State Department officials said Equatorial Guinea’s close ties to the American oil industry were the reason for the lax enforcement of the law. Production of the country’s nearly 400,000 barrels of oil a day is dominated by American companies like ExxonMobil, Hess and Marathon.
“Of course it’s because of oil,” said John Bennett, the United States ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1991 to 1994. He noted that officials of Zimbabwe are barred from the United States.
“Both countries are severely repressive,” said Mr. Bennett, who is now a senior foreign affairs officer for the State Department in Baghdad. “But if Zimbabwe had Equatorial Guinea’s oil, Zimbabwean officials wouldn’t still be blocked from the U.S.”
“The fact that someone like Mr. Obiang continues to travel freely here suggests strongly that the State Department is not yet applying the law as vigorously as Congress intended,” Senator Patrick Leahy and author of the bill said. The law was partly inspired by the accusations of corruption surrounding Mr. Obiang’s family and the Equatorial Guinean government, Mr. Leahy’s staff said.