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US Needs to Target Domestic Enablers of Corruption

Congress Should Address Gap in Magnitsky Act

Since 2017, the United States has sanctioned 150 people and entities for corruption under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The list of those targeted ranges widely – from the daughter of the former president of Uzbekistan to an Israeli businessman who made a fortune from Democratic Republic of Congo’s natural resources – but it leaves out an important group: professionals and their firms, many US-based, that help officials and businesspeople steal and launder public funds.

Yesterday, speakers at a hearing organized by the bipartisan congressional Lantos Human Rights Commission urged Congress to address this gap when the Global Magnitsky Act comes up for reauthorization next year. Tutu Alicante, who directs EG Justice, a nongovernmental organization that promotes human rights and good governance in Equatorial Guinea, spoke of the devastating human rights impact of corruption in his small but oil-rich country, and the failure of the US and other countries to hold those responsible to account.

Human Rights Watch and EG Justice have urged the US to sanction Equatorial Guinea’s vice president, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who was convicted in France in 2017 of laundering well more than US$100 million. But even if that eventually happens, sanctions on Teodorin, as he is known, would be insufficient.  A US Senate investigation of Equatorial Guinea’s ruling family - which triggered a Justice Department case that ended in a $30 million settlement - uncovered a network of US lawyers, real estate agents, and bankers who helped Teodorin funnel dirty money into the US. Those pilfered funds were used to buy a California mansion, a private jet, and an array of luxury items - including the crystal-covered glove the late-Michael Jackson wore on his Bad tour.

The gap in the Global Magnitsky Act is that it limits sanctions to foreign persons or entities – so misses the US-based enablers of Teodorin’s corruption.  A 2017 Executive Order broadens the law’s reach to include anyone, including US citizens and firms, who “provided financial, material, or technological support” to foreigners engaged in corruption, but perhaps because the Global Magnitsky Act is so foreign-focused the US government hasn’t made use of this language.

As Congress begins to shape a revised Global Magnitsky Act, it should make sure that it explicitly authorizes sanctions on corruption’s professional abettors in the US.

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