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A company solely managed by the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea has bought a six-bedroom house in the elite southern California beach enclave of Malibu, public records show.
The company, Sweetwater Malibu, run by Teodoro Nguema Obiang, expected successor to President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, paid an undisclosed sum on February 27 for the house, which was put on the market for $35m (€27.5m) (£18.5m).
News of the sale, to be publicised on Wednesday by Global Witness, an anti-corruption group focused on natural resource industries, could fuel allegations by watchdog groups of kleptocracy against leaders of sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil producer.
Mr Obiang officially earns about $5,000 a month as minister of forestry in his father’s government.
A real estate agent’s report said the 15-acre property offered “grandly proportioned rooms”, views of the sea, mountains and city, a master bedroom of about 6,000 square feet and access to a golf course.
According to a Los Angeles county property transfer record, Sweetwater Malibu bought the property from Sweetwater Mesa, a Delaware-incorporated company. A company registration for Sweetwater Malibu with the California secretary of state lists the younger Mr Obiang as its sole manager under “members, managers, and partners”.
Mr Obiang is already fighting a case in South Africa over two luxury houses valued at about $7m that he owns in Cape Town. A local company seeking to collect a debt arising from a business dispute with Equatorial Guinea’s government claims that the houses amount to state property as the younger Mr Obiang could not have afforded to buy them with his ministerial salary.
Efforts to obtain comment from Mr Obiang on Tuesday through Desigan Naidoo, his South African lawyer, were unsuccessful. Last month, through Mr Naidoo, he denied to the Financial Times any wrongdoing over the Cape Town properties.
In a sworn affidavit filed in the Cape Town case, Mr Obiang said ministers and public servants in Equatorial Guinea were allowed to own companies bidding for government contracts with foreign companies which, if successful, would receive “a percentage of the total contract the company gets”.
This, he told the court, “means that a cabinet minister ends up with a sizeable part of the contract price in his bank account”.
The oil boom has given Equatorial Guinea, with just half a million population, one of the highest per capita national incomes in the world – more than $50,000 a head. However, most of its citizens live in poverty.
Equatorial Guinea’s government has promised to improve its management of public funds in keeping with the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, an international framework that aims to curb corruption in resource-rich countries. This came after a US Senate inquiry in 2004 found that significant portions of the country’s oil revenues were held at Riggs Bank in Washington DC.
However, according to Global Witness, $718m of the country’s oil money – or nearly a quarter of its annual revenues from the industry – is held offshore, and 76 per cent of its recurrent expenditures are off-budget.