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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

African VP Keeps His Michael Jackson Stuff

LOS ANGELES (CN) - The son of the president of Equatorial Guinea will sell a $30 million Malibu mansion and a Ferrari and transfer the value of Michael Jackson memorabilia he allegedly acquired using embezzled money, the Justice Department said Friday.

Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue Obiang, nicknamed Teodorin, agreed to the settlement but continues to deny allegations that he amassed $300 million through corruption during his time as cabinet minister in the government of his father, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

Obiang, appointed second vice president in 2012, used third parties to accumulate millions of dollars in assets in the United States, the Justice Department said.

The $30 million forfeited is less than half of the $74 million federal prosecutors wanted.

"I am pleased to be able to end this long and costly ordeal," Obiang wrote in a post on his Facebook page. "I agreed to settle this case despite the fact that the U.S. federal courts had consistently found that the Department of Justice lacked probable cause to seize my property."

Under the settlement terms, Obiang can keep a Gulfstream Jet and Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a crystal glove from the King of Pop's "Bad" tour, and a "Thriller" jacket. The value of the Jackson memorabilia is $1 million, prosecutors said.

Obiang received a government salary of $100,000, but according to court records amassed more than $300 million in dirty money to fund his opulent lifestyle.

While working for his father's government as cabinet minister of Forestry and Infrastructure, Obiang allegedly took millions of dollars in bribes and extorted payments from timber companies operating in the small Central African nation.

While in the cabinet, Obiang embezzled millions of dollars of public money by eliciting inflated bids for government infrastructure contracts, Uncle Sam said in its Dec. 12, 2013 lawsuit.

After companies won those "bids," money was diverted to a web of Obiang-controlled shell companies that never performed any contracted work, prosecutors said. They said the Equatorial Guinea government also awarded multimillion-dollar contracts to Obiang's shell companies.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said it is difficult to prosecute corrupt foreign leaders, who often are immune from prosecution.

"This can give them a sense of impunity as they seek to enjoy the fruits of their corruption," Carr wrote in an email to Courthouse News. "Our initiative uses civil forfeiture to recover the proceeds of official corruption, prevents the U.S. from becoming a haven for corruption proceeds, and helps return the stolen assets to the people harmed."

Obiang will get a say in which charity receives $20 million of the settlement reserved for the people of Equatorial Guinea, according to the terms of the settlement.

The United States will repatriate $10.3 million to the African nation, Carr said.

Carr said that if the United States and Obiang could not reach an agreement on which charity should distribute the funds, a three-member panel will decide.

The government of Equatorial Guinea gets to a select a member to sit on the panel. A member selected by the United States will be joined by an independent third party, Carr said.

Tutu Alicante, of the human rights group EG Justice, said that he was worried the money might end up in the "wrong hands."

"What concerns me is what might happen to that $20 million, depending on who picks the charity, where that charity is based, and how much control does Teodorin of the EG government have over that charity?" Alicante said in a telephone interview.

Alicante said he hoped the federal government would do more to prevent kleptocrats from accumulating assets in America.

"The U.S. should be doing more to keep people like Teodorin outside the United States, and keep the assets out of the United States," Alicante said.

Alicante said he was pleased that the government had gone after Obiang, calling it a "welcome development."

"But equally, right now, given the political situation in the country - we're heading into elections - and his father is marching on, and really preparing the way for Teodorin to become the next president," Alicante added.

Alicante said that because Obiang's father appointed "every single judge" in the country, the chances of criminal charges against Obiang are "zero."

In March, France began investigating Obiang over similar money-laundering allegations.

"Through relentless embezzlement and extortion, Vice President Nguema Obiang shamelessly looted his government and shook down businesses in his country to support his lavish lifestyle, while many of his fellow citizens lived in extreme poverty," U.S. Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell said in statement. "After raking in millions in bribes and kickbacks, Nguema Obiang embarked on a corruption-fueled spending spree in the United States."

The settlement prevents Obiang from concealing laundered money in the United States, Caldwell said.

Obiang has agreed to remove any assets worth more than $500,000, the Justice Department said. In the unlikely event that he attempts to enter the United States on his Gulfstream Jet, it would be seized and forfeited.

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