Took to the Hudson Institute's Kleptocracy Initiative to parse what happens when you smuggle Michael Jackson's crystal-studded glove out of the U.S. - and when you also happen to be the vice president of Equatorial Guinea:
Obiang’s trial in France now stands as a potential precedent for the global anti-kleptocracy regime. As Transparency International summed, “the French trial will provide the first official, public record of the full extent of grand corruption in Equatorial Guinea.” Not only has Obiang seen attempts at diplomatic immunity falter – providing kleptocrats elsewhere any kind of pause moving forward – but the trial, which brings criminal charges against Obiang, will provide that much further insight into Obiang’s methods for stashing his estimated wealth abroad.
Such methods include, of course, Western recognition, from both public and private sectors, of the massed corruption allegations swirling the entire Obiang family. Despite these allegations, the family still accessed numerous Western banks, and American oil majors paid little mind to corruption concerns around their investments in Equatorial Guinea. The U.S. federal government also continued to allow Obiang travel to the U.S. proper. (As one attorney specializing in money laundering and foreign corruption said in 2009 about Obiang’s travels to the U.S., “Where the hell is the U.S. government?”) Likewise, at least one U.S.-based shell company provided Obiang the tools necessary to purchase his Malibu mansion – roping in not only ongoing concerns about money laundering related to American real estate, but the U.S.’s burgeoning company formation industry.
Indeed, few actors involved the ongoing saga surrounding Obiang come out for the better. Aside from the U.S.’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative and the French judicial system, Obiang has helped highlight the myriad shortcomings surrounding Western anti-kleptocracy efforts, from multiple failures of due diligence in the banking sector to the continued allowance of shell company formation in the U.S. to anyone who can provide funds.
Still, such failings should not obscure the importance of his ongoing trial. Wrote The Guardian’s Nick Cohen, “This is the first time the serving minister of a tyrant has been arraigned on corruption charges.” Finally, the Equatoguineans sloughing under the Obiang family’s rule may find some form of justice – or at least further insight into where the country’s oil wealth has gone. Regardless of the trial’s outcome, the allegations against, and methods utilized by, Obiang will be formally entered into the record. As Transparency International concluded, “This is a milestone in the history of the anti-corruption movement.”