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Poor nations ‘blessed’ with wealthy Presidents

Isa Senkumba

Poor nations ‘blessed’ with wealthy Presidents

We are dismayed that leaders get richer as their people get poorer


If we are to list down Africa’s current richest personalities, Paul Biya of Cameroon, Jonathan Good Luck of Nigeria , King Mswati  III of Swaziland, Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and others.  It is fine for a leader to be super rich but we are dismayed by the fact that when leaders get richer their people get poorer. Does this mean anything to you?

Being wealthy and filthy rich is a relic for African leaders.  These chaps rise from humble origins and suddenly become billionaires in overnights. The fact that they shelter their cash in off shore banks and projects also suggests something. Off shore banks and companies are another part of the system through which money is siphoned out of poor countries and hidden well away from its citizens.  There is no honest reason for being off shore. Bank secrecy and off shore money industry have no place in a globalised economy.

In 1999 US senate inquiry revealed that 350 of Citibank’s 40,000 clients were senior foreign government officials or relatives including President Omar Bongo of Gabon, who transferred $100 million through personal accounts in Citibank’s New York branches. Bongo had two private accounts in the name of Shell ( or dummy) corporations as well as a special account to receive payments from oil companies, which included alleged bribes or ‘donations’ from the French government oil company called Elf-Aquitaine.

The same bank is said to have sheltered cash for Asif Ali Zardari, the husband of former Pakistan Prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. He transferred some$ 40 million through Citibank accounts, of which $10 million is believed to be kickbacks on a gold importing contract.  Between 1992 and 1994 Raul Salinas, the brother to former Mexican President Carlos Salinas transferred $80 to $100million alleged to be drug money out of Mexico using his Citibank accounts.

The three sons of Nigeria’s General Sani Abacha also held about $110 million in Citibank accounts. Some of these accounts were in the names of Shell Corporation set up by the bank. The bank lent two sons $39 million to deposit in another bank account in Switzerland after the new Nigerian government began investigations into corruption in 1998.

A team of journalists from 45 countries unearthed secret bank accounts maintained for criminals, traffickers, tax dodgers, politicians and celebrities. Banking giant HSBC has been cited to keep money for dictators and arms dealers. Some clients linked to millions and sometimes tens of millions dollars in their accounts are politically -connected figures such as Rachid Mohammed Rachid, the former Egyptian trade minister who fled Cairo in February 2011 amid the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. Rachid was convicted in absentia for alleged profiteering and squandering public funds.     

In 2012 US police seized assets belonging to Teodore Nguema Obiang Mangue, the Equatorial Guinea President’s son. Among the seized items were a shs 480 billion building in Paris, thought to have 101 rooms. You can now imagine the kind of lives presidents live.   The US and European countries spend billions on foreign aid every year but the leaders continue to stock this cash onto their accounts.

The oceans of  money that government officials swim  through start from direct siphoning from government coffers and public agencies, forcing contributions from officials, friends, corporate organisations and kickbacks from multinationals keen on securing deals for infrastructure  development, oil and gas and other natural resources exploration.  The ease with which they acquire this money explains their lavish expenditures. Angola media reported that the country’s culture ministry spent more than $ 6 million on hosting international public figures to talk about the President.

In a paper entitled ‘Abacha Loot Deal: A Global Shame’, by Reverend David Ugolor, he says that the incidence of looting public money and stashing it in western financial institutions  is a global problem and both developing and developed countries as well as international organisations are at a loss on how to stem or control the phenomenon.  If the billions of foreign aid that developed countries shower onto the African countries have inspired the leaders to loot their countries, why then can’t the western world shut their wallets?  I can’t think of any hypocrite worse than them.

Heads of states such as Duvalier of Haiti, Ferdinand Marcos of Philippine s, Mobutu Sese Seku of Zaire, now DRC, and Suharto of Indonesia are the most publicised culprits of this global crime. Unfortunately many of them never benefited from their dubiously accumulated wealth. When Mobutu died the Zairian government quickly asked Belgium to freeze his assets in Belgium and bank accounts in Switzerland.  Many of these thieves have not enjoyed their loot and not even their off springs have.  Then why steal?



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