The Kleptocrat's Webmaster: U.S. PR Firm Puts Pretty Face on a Reportedly Corrupt Ministry in Equatorial Guinea
The flag of Equatorial Guinea.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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Washington-based Qorvis Communications has continued to work on behalf of the president of Equatorial Guinea’s family and has managed the website of a government ministry currently in the crosshairs of international corruption investigations.
The President of Equatorial Guinea’s son, Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, and the government ministry he ran have fallen under increasing scrutiny over the past year as corruption and money-laundering investigations in the U.S. and France have resulted in allegations that millions of dollars were siphoned out of the West African country.
Qorvis, a public relations firm with a reputation for partnering with controversial regimes, has received substantial criticism in recent years for its work on behalf of Equatorial Guinea and Teodorin. Foreign Agent Registration Act disclosures and an examination of websites connected to the country’s government reveal that despite the widening investigations, Qorvis has continued this work, including maintaining the website of Teodorin’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
That ministry was used by Teodorin, who served as forestry minister until he was appointed second vice president in May of this year, to funnel millions of dollars in public funds into a private bank account, according to allegations made by the U.S. Justice Department.
There are no allegations that Qorvis participated in any illegal activity.
The president and his family have profited from Equatorial Guinea’s considerable oil wealth and its relatively high per capita GDP. The oil revenue funds “lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while most of the population lives in poverty,” says Human Rights Watch in its profile of Equatorial Guinea. “The government regularly engages in torture and arbitrary detention,” Human Rights Watch adds, noting that “President Obiang and his family are the subject of multiple foreign corruption investigations.”
Qorvis — through the websites the firm manage on behalf of Equatorial Guinea and a steady stream of press releases — plays a central role in the country’s public diplomacy in Washington, promoting, among other things, the country’s natural resources management.
“The mission of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is to enhance Equatorial Guinea’s natural resources,” reads a statement on the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Qorvis-managed website. The site explains that the ministry “focuses on the integrity and performance of the biological chain, including animals, plants, food and related sectors, and their contribution to Equatorial Guinea’s economy and well-being.”
According to the website, “The Ministry encourages high performances in all its sectors, safe trade, and protects the natural resources for the benefit of future generations.” The site, which appears to have been last updated in May of this year, states that it “is developed and maintained by Qorvis Communications, LLC, on behalf of the government of Equatorial Guinea.”
Those claims of good-business practices in Equatorial Guinea’s forestry resources contrasts sharply with an April 2011 U.S. Justice Department civil complaint — as well as more detailed amended complaints filed in October 2011 and June 2012 — alleging that Teodorin, while serving as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, inflated public construction contracts, misused public resources, and transferred millions into bank accounts he controlled.
The DOJ claims that since the 1990s, Teodorin has used his position as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry to solicit bribes and kickbacks from timber companies seeking access to Equatorial Guinea’s natural resources. Those companies who failed to pay Teodorin allegedly faced retaliation from Equatorial Guinea’s government in the form of seizure of assets and the arrest of company personnel.
Teodorin’s alleged corruption extended outside the forestry sector. The complaints charge that Teodorin demanded bribes from companies seeking government contracts. In one case “in or around 2003,” according to the June 2012 complaint, Teodorin demanded that Tromad SA Constructions, a company retained by the government to build roads, “pay him personally fifteen percent of the value of its government contract.” The DOJ says that the company refused to pay Teodorin, and its government contract was terminated. In other cases, according to the complaint, Teodorin solicited “gifts” from oil companies doing business in Equatorial Guinea.