Africa: Make Corruption a Crime Against Humanity - U.S. Lawyer

Some financial crimes should be made crimes against humanity, a respected U.S. lawyer specialising in money laundering told a conference of experts, calling on them to bring "criminal" governments to account.

"There are cases where corruption, rottenness and theft of public funds do become a crime against humanity," Jack Blum told 200 experts at the Financial Transparency Coalition's conference in Tanzania.

"In a case like Equatorial Guinea, what goes on in terms of the transfer of wealth out of the country, and the resulting oppression of most of the citizens of that country, is a crime against humanity in my view," added Blum, who worked as a Senate investigator for many years, as well as a United Nations expert on corruption.

The Central African nation of 700,000 people is the third-biggest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite its wealth, the majority of its population lives in extreme poverty.

Equatorial Guinea's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) is equivalent to some of the world's top-tier economies but it has the 19th highest child mortality rate in the world, according to 2010 United Nations and World Bank statistics.

"There are more children dying in infancy as a result of that lack of money than you want to count. And to me, it's on a par with a kind of genocide," said Blum, who is chair of the advocacy group Tax Justice Network USA.

HOLDING PRESIDENTS TO ACCOUNT

Blum also railed against traditional principles of national sovereignty that thwart efforts to bring international justice.

"When you have a criminal government, what the hell do you do?" he asked. "The question of how to bring about some proper method of holding people accountable when they are heads of states is really an essential problem for us to deal with in the years ahead."

On Saturday, the African Union called for the prosecutions of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be halted. They are both facing charges of crimes against humanity for 2007 poll violence.

The Ethiopian government, hosting the meeting, said it was an infringement of national sovereignty to try sitting presidents.

Bashir, who has been charged with genocide by the ICC, continues to travel the world despite the court's order for his arrest.

Similarly, those accused of financial crimes remain at large.

Teodorin Obiang, the son of Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Nguema Obiang, faces money laundering charges in France and the United States. France has issued an arrest warrant for him.

Investigators suspect he embezzled public funds to buy real luxury estate in Paris and Malibu, a private jet and a stable of exotic sports cars.

Last year, French police seized a $200 million Parisian building allegedly owned by Teodorin, revealing millions of euros of art, antiques and fine wines - in addition to a nightclub and hairdressers.

Obiang, who is Equatorial Guinea's agricultural minister and second vice-president, says the wealth was amassed legitimately through successful business dealings.

His father has been in power for 34 years, making him the longest-serving African leader following the demise of Libya's Muammar Gaddafi.

"How do we deal with these characters who are running a country who in essence say: 'Yay. So what? I stole all the money. It's mine. Do something. I'm president'," Blum asked.

"This kind of system that allows that sort of nonsense is a system we have to really challenge and say everybody has to be subject to justice for what they do."

Blum played a central role in the 1970s Lockheed Aircraft bribery investigation, which led to the passage of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the investigation of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

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