The United States Department of Justice filed an asset forfeiture claim on Tuesday against property worth over $70 million owned by Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the 41- year-old first son of Equatorial Guinea’s President.
The targeted properties, which are believed to have been acquired with the proceeds of corrupt activities, include a $30 million Malibu mansion, a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet and $2 million of Michael Jackson memorabilia.
According to a statement by the Department of Justice, the American government is attempting to recover the stolen funds for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, as well as demonstrate to world leaders that the U.S. will not be a haven for corrupt leaders. “We are sending the message loud and clear: the United States will not be a hiding place for the ill-gotten riches of the world’s corrupt leaders,” Assistant US Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in the statement.
Teodorin, who serves as Equitorial Guinea’s Minister of Forestry and Agriculture even though he spends very little time in the country, is one of Africa’s most lavish spenders — despite officially earning just a little over $6,500 a month. Earlier this month, the French National Police raided his 42 Avenue Foch home in Paris, where they seized his $10 million car collection as part of a foreign aid money-laundering investigation. Some of the cars seized in the raid included a Maserati MC12, a Porsche Carrera GT, two Bugatti Veyrons and a Ferrari Enzo, among others. Apart from his Malibu and Paris homes, Obiang also owns plush residences in swanky neighborhoods in countries like South Africa and Belgium.
The recent action by the Dept. of Justice has been applauded by several human right activists and integrity organizations. “By taking action to seize this house, the U.S. is finally starting to send a strong message that it does not want to be a safe haven for ill-gotten loot and vast, unexplained wealth,” said Robert Palmer, a campaigner with Global Witness, a Washington-based Human rights organization. “This should keep suspected kleptocrats with assets in the US awake at night.”
Teodorin, who is generally believed to be next in line to rule the oil-rich country, has been besieged by corruption allegations on several occasions. In 2006 he infamously and brazenly divulged to a South African court that it was common practice for Equatorial Guinean politicians to transfer government funds to their personal accounts. In 2009 Global Witness reported that Obiang had illegally transferred over $75 million into the U.S. between 2005 and 2007. The funds were used to buy the Malibu home and a Gulfstream jet.
If the forfeiture claim is eventually successful, Teodorin Obiang might be denied entry into the United States in the future. According to Dr. Chijioke Onyeka, an independent international relations expert, “the State Department has a list of international corrupt officials who are usually refused entry into the United States. If history is anything to go by, Obiang might find it difficult gaining entry into the United States.” But he added: “Apart from Obiang, there are innumerable other African leaders and politicians from who have used illicit funds to acquire properties in the U.S, the U.K and Switzerland. Foreign governments must fish them all out and seize their properties. There should be no safe haven for corrupt African leaders.”
While Obiang lives like royalty off country funds, the vast majority of its people (populations 688,000) live in abject squalor. Despite the fact that the tiny West African nation of Equitorial Guinea is one of the continent’s largest producers of oil and has one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, over 70% of the country’s population live on less than a dollar per day; 20% of the country’s children die before the age of five, while the remaining 80% have access to little or substandard education.
By Mfonobong Nsehe