Juan Carlos Angue Ondo, pictured below, is the latest individual to reveal details of the grand corruption that plagues Equatorial Guinea. In recent interviews (here in English and here in Spanish), he describes how the country’s rulers use the judicial system to perpetrate corrupt schemes and maintain their grip on power. The revelations confirm what human rights (here and here) and anticorruption groups (here and here) have said for years: that ideas of judicial independence, due process, and the rule of law are strangers to Equatorial Guinea.
Angue’s whistleblowing comes at particularly fraught time – both for the nation and for the International Monetary Fund. As blog readers know (here and here), last December the government secured an IMF loan to rescue the economy from recession. In return, it pledged to take concrete, measurable steps to strengthen the rule of law and combat corruption. An obvious first step would be to take what Angue claims seriously. To investigate the allegations, and where warranted prosecute wrongdoers and make needed reforms to laws and judicial institutions. But will Equatorial Guinea’s government do so?
And what will the IMF do if it does not? Halt loan disbursements? Or sweep the matter under the rug?
The allegations cannot be lightly dismissed. Angue likely knows more about judicial corruption, the absence of the rule of law, and the lack of judicial independence than anyone in Equatorial Guinea.
The reason? Angue served as the nation’s chief magistrate and president of its supreme court for three and one-half years. That gave him authority over judicial assignments and made him privy to the inner-workings of the lower courts. Within the judiciary only the president, whom in another insult to judicial independence and the rule of law the constitution makes the “First Magistrate of the Nation,” outranked him.
Angue was removed from office in August 2018 in violation of the judicial tenure law. He says the illegal discharge arose from a eulogy he delivered at the funeral of a colleague. His colleague had also been removed from the bench illegally, arrested and jailed by security forces without regard for the judicial service law. The judge later died while in custody, widely believed from torture. At the funeral Angue praised the late judge for his refusal to go along with a bribery scheme government officials had cooked up. Authorities tried to get him to change his statement, he says; after he refused he was summarily fired.
In early February Angue learned security forces planned to arrest him, claiming he had been part of an unsuccessful coup attempt in 2017. Given what is known about the attempted coup and the arrest’s timing, the charges would appear to be trumped up. A suspicion lent credence by the fact that the arrest was to be effected without a warrant as required by Equatorial Guinean law.
Fearing that were he arrested he would share the fate of his deceased colleague, Angue sought help from the American, French, and Spanish ambassadors. With their assistance he eluded his captors. He is now in hiding in another country.
Equatorial Guinea’s government may use the coup allegations to discredit Angue’s claims. But even if the charges are not baseless, they are no reason to ignore what he is saying about the regime and its corruption. For years, he has had, if not a front row seat to its excesses, at least an unobstructed view.
His mother has been ambassador to Spain and the United States and his older brother has held several cabinet posts. Angue’s knowledge of regime corruption is likely not limited to what he heard around the family dinner table. His appointment as chief justice was quite irregular. In May 2015 President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo fired every judge in the country, replacing the upper ranks with a whole new cadre of judges apparently more to his liking. That Angue was named chief justice suggests the president trusted him to toe the government’s line. Indeed, it may well be that given his ties to the Obiang clique, Angue’s knowledge of corruption in government ranks is at least in part from personal experience.
That would make his claims all the more credible and be all the more reason why, if the government is serious about complying with the IMF’s loan conditions, and the IMF is serious about seeing they are complied with, both would treat Angue’s claims with the utmost seriousness.