Kleptocracy has played a major role in stifling progress in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa, where corrupt leaders have siphoned public revenues into their personal accounts to fund extravagant lifestyles to the detriment of their communities. Since 2006, when the Bush administration called for action, the international community has made the countering of kleptocracy, or high-level corruption, a major priority. Developments in recent weeks have suggested that this increased vigour is leading to concerted enforcement efforts.
On 11 April 2012, it was reported that French authorities had approved an investigator’s request to issue an international arrest warrant for the son of Equatorial Guinea’s President. Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, widely known as “Teodorin”, is the country’s agriculture minister, earning a salary of $6,799 per month, yet is said to have spent over $100 million on personal expenses between 2001 and 2011.
The investigation has seen French authorities raid an Equatorial Guinea-owned Paris building worth €150 million, confiscating artworks, fine wines and a fleet of 16 luxury cars worth several million dollars. Transparency International, the anti-corruption NGO, filed the original legal complaint against Teodorin. Equatorial Guinea is Africa’s third-biggest oil producing country yet most of its population lives in poverty.
Separately, US authorities have sought to seize assets worth $71 million, including a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia and a $30 million Malibu home. The move is seen as a major step forward in the US’s own fight against kleptocracy, with Human Rights Watch senior researcher Lisa Misol commenting “this is the first time US authorities have gone after the assets of a foreign government official, let alone one viewed as next in line to the throne”.
Increasingly, countries are seizing the assets of foreign officials suspected of corruption. Canada has frozen the assets of Zine al-Abadine Ben Ali, the former Tunisian leader deposed during the Arab Spring, using a new law making it easier for authorities confiscate property suspected of being criminally obtained.
Meanwhile, on 17 April a British court sentenced James Ibori, a former governor of the oil rich Delta state in Nigeria, to 13 years for the embezzlement of £50 million of public money. Pleading guilty to 10 charges of fraud and money laundering, Ibori was told by Judge Anthony Pitts at the Southwark Crown Court hearing “during those two terms (as governor) you turned yourself into a multi-millionaire through corruption”. Judge Pitts also speculated that the true amount illegally accrued by Ibori could be in excess of £200 million.
Ibori used his stolen wealth to fund an extravagant lifestyle in the UK, which included a country mansion in South-West England, a £2.2 million home in London’s Hampstead, a fleet of luxury cars and foreign properties worth £6.9 million. He had faced corruption charges in Nigeria but successfully obtained the transfer of his court case from the northern city of Kaduna to Delta State capital Asaba, where the judge (also his cousin) swiftly dismissed the 170 charges against him.
These moves suggest that national governments are prepared to apply their own criminal laws to prosecute the foreign officials that move or establish links with the country by using wealth generated from corruption in their home countries. The prosecution of Ibori may force corrupt officials to reconsider how they spend their illicit wealth, while the development of the Teodorin case will cast a light on the practicalities of such moves against Africa’s ruling families.
Back to top