Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mark Thatcher & Simon Mann's African Coup

White House Links

The petroleum trail has led some to insinuate White House connections to the Equatorial Guinea affair, because "oil" and "Texas" are linked inextricably to another word: Bush.

To be sure, Bush has myriad oil connections to Equatorial Guinea, including friendships or business relationships with numerous executives whose firms are invested there. Two examples:

  • In 2001, Amerada Hess paid $3.2 billion to buy Triton Energy. The transaction made two wealthy executives of Triton, Tom Hicks and Bob Holland, even wealthier. Both are close friends of President Bush and members of his $100,000-donor "Pioneers." In 1998, then-Gov. Bush earned $15 million on a $606,000 investment when Hicks bought the Texas Rangers from its ownership group. Triton's lucrative deals in Equatorial Guinea were a primary factor in the lofty purchase price paid by Amerada Hess.
  • Halliburton, the petroleum and energy service-provider once led by Vice President Cheney, has had business relations with many of the oil firms active in West Africa. It is a major subcontractor for Vanco, a Houston firm that is the largest holder of underwater energy exploration licenses in sub-Saharan Africa. A Halliburton subsidiary has been accused of paying a $180 million bribe to the former government of Nigeria in connection with natural gas reserves there.

After his first election, President Bush felt intense lobbying from the oil industry to reopen the American embassy in Equatorial Guinea, closed by President Clinton in 1995, weeks before the vast oil fields were discovered.

According to reporter Silverstein, a memo to Bush from the industry read, "It is important to underscore that most of the oil and gas concessions awarded in Equatorial Guinea to date have been awarded to U.S. firms. This is in stark contrast to neighboring countries in the region, where the United States has consistently lost out to French and other European and Asian competitors."

In November 2001, Bush authorized the reopening of the embassy — a vote of confidence for President Obiang. There still is no embassy, although the ambassador posted in neighboring Cameroon is considered the U.S. representative to Equatorial Guinea and has met with Obiang.

Since 9/11, the Bush administration has promoted West Africa as an attractive alternative to the Middle East as a source of oil and gas for America. Equatorial Guinea is a key component of that strategy, in spite of all its flaws.

Malabo from the air
Malabo from the air

The State Department's 2004 report on the country says, "Poor fiscal management and a lack of transparency in public accounting of national finances have undermined the country's economic potential. Oil companies have paved roads in Malabo, upgraded the island's electricity generating system, and funded a variety of health and environment projects designed to improve citizens' well being; however, there was little evidence that the Government used the country's oil wealth for the public good."

The report said the nation's human rights record remained poor, citing "numerous abuses, including torture, beating, and other physical abuse of prisoners and suspects, which at times resulted in deaths." It managed one positive note: In 2003, there were fewer reported incidents of torture and abuse than in previous years.

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