Coincidence and Corruption

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.


Taint of Corruption Is No Barrier to U.S. Visa

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.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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13 Responses to Coincidence and Corruption

  1. Pingback: Malibú ya no es lo que era

  2. Master Cook says:

    My impression is that Americans tend to underrate how much corruption exists in the US. This is because corruption in the US has grown, so people still use their estimates from a few decades back but the nature of the corruption has changed. Also much corruption, almost by definition, is hidden and difficult to estimate.

    But we shouldn’t think of this as just something that happens in benighted African countries. But in many of these countries the economy is based around resources extracted by foreign companies, using foreign workers, with the only money going back into the local economy being the bribe to the local dictator. This is a really sad situation.

  3. Thomas says:

    It seems that this law runs against established concepts of diplomatic immunity. The state department may not be entirely able to enforce the law properly due to the ambivalence in statute and policy.

  4. Curzon says:

    Thomas, diplomatic immunity is for diplomats. This is entirely different — preventing certain foreign nationals (who have no right of entry) from entering the county. There is nothing to indicate it would violate principles of international law.

  5. SJPONeill says:

    Whose corruption laws/values do you apply? Outside of the First World, such practices are pretty accepted – to any extent that argues that they are at least as successful and sustainable than the squeaky-clean-green moral high ground philosophy.

  6. Oliver says:

    This law is silly. Countries should limit their law enforcement and bleedings hearts to their own soil. Foreign policy exists to support national interests and access to oil is in the national interest.

  7. Pingback: Get over it! « The World According to Me…

  8. Durf says:

    Oliver: “Countries should limit their law enforcement and bleedings hearts to their own soil.”

    Isn’t that exactly what the United States should be doing? This discussion isn’t about whether we send Predator drones after this slimebag while he’s in EG; it’s about whether we give him entry visas to allow him into the country. This is “law enforcement on our own soil” to a T.

  9. stevelaudig says:

    When did this practice of the United States government countenancing evil foreigners to reside in the United States begin? Was it post WWII with the tolerance induced by the CIA? The refugees used to be honorable, political refugees fleeing oppression. Now it’s tyrants and their handmaidens. More fruits of world empire, the welcoming of petty rulers who’ve looted their own country but were supportive of the United States government’s interests at one time.

  10. If they take their home away and seize their assets, I hereby volunteer to live in that house and enjoy the view.

  11. Oliver says:

    “This is “law enforcement on our own soil” to a T.”

    Nope. Which law has he ever broken in the US? What foreigners do to other foreigners abroad is simply no business of the US.

  12. The Dark Avenger says:

    Which law has he ever broken in the US?

    A law doesn’t have to have been broken in order for the State Department in order to refuse entry to a foreign national into the U. S.

  13. Oliver says:

    The US is of course free to admit whomever it likes to admit or not.

    The question is not one of legality but sense. If such habits spread international travel will be harmed. This is simply in nobody’s national interest. This law makes no sense.