News from the New York Times yesterday that U.S.-based military contractor Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI) is training Equatorial Guinea’s security forces has put the small, but oil-rich, West African nation back in the spotlight. And whenever a news story breaks about Equatorial Guinea, reports about its strongman leader, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, his rampant human rights violations, and his close relationship to power-circles in Washington, DC are quick to follow.
While the Times’s article focused on MPRI, a Virginia based company headed up by former Donald Rumsfeld aide Bantz Craddock, MPRI is just the latest in the long line of beltway consultancies and companies with lobbying interests in Washington to defend the interests of Obiang’s government.
An examination of Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) forms reveals some interesting insights into the influence which Obiang and his family are able to buy in Washington.
Former Democratic lobbyist and Clinton administration official Lanny Davis was a recipient of a $1 million per year contract (PDF) with Equatorial Guinea until earlier this year. Davis ended his contract with Obiang’s government after Salon’s Justin Elliott and other journalists cast scrutiny on his work. Obiang also got some bad publicity last year when the United Nations decided to suspend plans to award a life sciences prize sponsored by Equatorial Guinea.
But Qorvis Communications continues to represent Obiang in Washington and receives a lucrative $60,000 per month retainer in a contract (PDF) which runs through August 2011. Interestingly, the address of the “foreign principal” in the FARA registration isn’t an embassy or government building in Equatorial Guinea. The contract (PDF) is with Obiang’s playboy son, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, and the contact address is listed as “3620 Sweetwater Mesa Road, Malibu, CA 90265.” That’s the address of Teodoro’s $35 million Malibu mansion.
Obiang and his son don’t even need to cut checks from Malibu for some of their lobbying work. According to lobbying disclosure forms, some of the largest oil companies devote considerable resources to lobbying for their business interests in Equatorial Guinea.
Marathon Oil spent $1.08 million (PDF) in the first quarter of 2011 lobbying on a number of foreign policy issues including “investment by Marathon Oil Corporation in developing energy resources in Equatorial Guinea” and “Equatorial Guinea — U.S. Engagement.” In 2010, they spent over $5 million lobbying on similar foreign policy concerns.
While MPRI’s training of Obiang’s security forces is just the latest story to emerge from the U.S.-Equatorial Guinea relationship, it’s clear that a lot of money and resources are being invested in keeping the U.S. in a close relationship with one of the world’s most corrupt governments.