Clifford Chance has addressed allegations that it was involved in a deal to buy a $38m private jet for the corrupt playboy son of the brutal dictator of Equatorial Guinea. Another firm, Penningtons Manches, has refused to state whether it still works for the dictator himself, who is alleged to consume the testicles of his enemies.
Chris Perrin, Clifford Chance's General Counsel, spoke about the firm's relationship with Teodorín Obiang at Transparency International's UK Annual Lecture after a story appeared in Private Eye*. Perrin emphasised that contrary to reports, Clifford Chance acted "for the entity which had lent funds" to the jet's seller, not Obiang Jr himself. "To be clear", said Perrin, "we did not act for Obiang on the purchase of a private jet, and we would never have done so".
However he admitted that Clifford Chance did act for Obiang personally in 2011, when the US accused him of corruption and attempted to seize his assets. “At the time, we saw that as an access-to-justice issue" said Perrin, "and we therefore agreed to advise him on that one limited issue". But, he said, "it is clearly to be distinguished, in my view, from assisting him in the purchase of a private jet". He said the firm's policies had "evolved" since 2008, and that "we would not now act for the likes of Obiang, even on an access-to-justice issue”.
Despite its laudable refusal to act for the likes of Obiang any longer, Clifford Chance declined to comment on the status of its relationship with Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Private Eye had reported that Clifford Chance also acted for him. Earlier this year RollOnFriday revealed that after the ruler known as MBS, or 'Mr Bone Saw', was credibly accused of ordering the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, Clifford Chance (along with other firms) ignored calls to boycott a Saudi conference.
MBS may get a pass, but CC's evolved policies mean Obiang will have to look elsewhere for legal advice. Last year a French court convicted him of corruption and embezzlement. His purchases included a bejewelled glove worn by Michael Jackson on his Bad tour, and a €100 million Paris mansion which featured gold-plated taps, a spa and an in-house nightclub.
He could always turn to his father's firm. Penningtons, now Penningtons Manches, was quite happy to act for Teodoro Obiang in 2009 when the dictator sued for damages after an attempted coup. Penningtons took the work (and the money), despite Obiang Sr's well-known reputation as a corrupt and cruel dictator. And despite accusations from exiles that he ate the testicles and brains of his enemies. And despite his vow to personally rape and kill the coup's organiser. Penningtons Manches did not respond to an email from RollOnFriday asking if it still acted for Teodoro Obiang.
In his remarks, Perrin announced that Clifford Chance was "initiating discussions" with other large London law firms "in a move to ratchet up what we can all do to counter corruption", and said the firm hoped to release a joint statement in the coming months. Penningtons Manches declined to say whether it would be participating.
*Slightly embarrassingly for everyone, Equatorial Guinea appears on Transparency International's list of the world's 12 most corrupt states.