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U.S. takes welcome action to seize dictator’s son’s haul

25th October 2011

Today the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) unsealed an asset forfeiture claim against a $30m Malibu house, a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet and other assets owned by the son of the President of Equatorial Guinea, claiming that they were bought with the proceeds of corruption. Global Witness, which in 2006 first revealed that Teodorin Obiang owned the Malibu mansion, welcomes this action after several years of investigations.

Teodorin is the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry in his father’s government, earning a salary of $6,799 a month, yet despite this relatively modest official income he leads an exceptionally extravagant way of life.

In 2009 Global Witness reported that he had moved $75m into the U.S. between 2005 and 2007, some of which was used to buy the Malibu mansion and the jet. At the time we published this information Teodorin was still being allowed into the U.S., despite the fact that the State Department is legally obliged to keep a list of foreign officials against whom there is credible evidence of corruption, who should be denied visas. Global Witness was concerned that law enforcement efforts against him appeared to have ground to a halt.

“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. “This should keep suspected kleptocrats with assets in the US awake at night.”

The DoJ filing claims that the $70.8m worth of assets were derived from “the misappropriation, theft, or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official”. Teodorin is accused of using his position as Minister of Forestry and his ownership of two logging companies to “enrich himself through corrupt schemes in the timber industry”.

Two weeks ago the DoJ filed a “lis pendens” – a written notice that a lawsuit concerning the ownership of property had been filed. It included the Malibu mansion, seven cars, and “one white crystal-covered ‘Bad Tour’ glove and other Michael Jackson memorabilia”.

Teodorin, who is being groomed to succeed his father, has been dogged by corruption allegations. According to a previous DoJ document “it is suspected that a large portion of Teodoro Nguema Obiang’s assets have originated from extortion, theft of public funds, or other corrupt conduct”. In 2006 he admitted to a South African court that it was usual practice for ministers in Equatorial Guinea to end up with a sizeable chunk of any government contract in their bank account.  

The action by the DoJ comes only weeks after the French police seized $5m worth of Teodorin’s sports cars in Paris. This was part of a court case brought by French NGOs Sherpa and Transparency International-France, claiming that the wealth of three African leaders, including President Obiang, was illicitly earned.

Contacts: Robert Palmer in Washington D.C. +44 (0)7545 645 406 or rpalmer@globalwitness.org.

Notes to editors:

1. In the March 2009 report Undue Diligence: How banks do business with corrupt regimes Global Witness uncovered an extensive shopping list of fast cars that Teodorin had purchased in France, including a number of $1.7m Bugatti Veyrons, one of the fastest cars in the world.
2. In November 2009 Global Witness released The Secret Life of a Shopaholic which detailed some of Teodorin’s U.S. expenditure.