VP Can Stay in Africa for Jet Forfeiture Deposition
(CN) - An African vice president need not face deposition in Washington, D.C., regarding the attempted forfeiture of a $38 million jet, a federal judge ruled.
The plane belongs to Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo. In addition to being the president's son, Nguema is also Equatorial Guinea's Second Vice President.
Among past extravagant purchases are "eight Ferraris, seven Rolls-Royces, five Bentleys, four Mercedes, a Porsche, two Lamborghinis and an Aston Martin," as well as a $275,000 glove once worn by Michael Jackson, according to a forfeiture complaint the U.S. government filed in 2011.
The United States alleges that the jet was purchased with embezzled, stolen and extorted money. It amended its complaint last year after U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras found no evidence that such funds fueled the purchase.
As the case proceeds to discovery, the government notified Nguema that it wanted to depose him on April 23 in Washington, D.C.
Nguema missed that deposition, and Judge Contreras granted him a protective order on Friday to prevent such a meeting.
Instead, the deposition can be conducted via "written interrogatories, telephone, videoconference, or in person, with videoconference likely being the most efficient method for all parties," according to the 18-page opinion.
Judge Contreras said Nguema met his burden of demonstrating good cause for a protective order.
"The court finds that satisfactory alternatives exist for deposing Nguema without requiring him to travel to Washington, D.C.," Contreras wrote. "The availability of these methods augments the risk of 'annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense' if Nguema was ordered to appear unnecessarily in the United States for a deposition."
Contreras also highlighted the presumption that a deposition should occur where the witness lives.
"The method of conducting the deposition in Equatorial Guinea remains within the government's discretion," he wrote.
Contreras said he expects Nguema to cooperate with the deposition.
Nguema bought the jet through an escrow agent in Oklahoma City after a British Virgin Islands company agent stopped the deal because Nguema refused to identify the source of the money, according to the original complaint.
Nguema's father seized control of Equatorial Guinea from his uncle in a 1979 coup.