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U.S. Justice Department Targets Assets in Equatorial Guinea Corruption Probe
The National Law Journal
Federal prosecutors are targeting more than $70.8 million, including nearly $2 million in Michael Jackson memorabilia, that the government contends is the fruit of a money-laundering and extortion scheme in the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.
The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday unsealed civil forfeiture complaints in Washington, D.C., federal district court and in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
Prosecutors allege Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue abused his post as a government minister of Equatorial Guinea, amassing wealth of more than $100 million. Nguema, the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea, served as the minister of forestry and agriculture for the West African country.
The complaints said Nguema purchased a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, a $30 million mansion in Malibu, Calif., and a 2011 Ferrari worth more than $530,000. The government also wants to seize a white crystal-covered glove from a Michael Jackson tour.
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the DOJ Criminal Division said Nguema "lived the high life" while residents of Equatorial Guinea struggled. The country is a major oil and gas producer, generating billions of dollars in annual revenue.
Human rights groups for years also have accused Nguema's father's regime of torture, murder and rampant corruption.
Nguema, according to prosecutors, used intermediaries and corporate entities to acquire assets. His official salary is less than $100,000 a year, according to the complaints.
Prosecutors described in the complaint an "inner circle" of officials who held positions of economic and political power in Equatorial Guinea. Members of the circle, according to the Justice Department, demanded payments from companies doing business in the country.
Nguema allegedly required timber companies that wanted to do logging business in Equatorial Guinea to first pay him a personal fee to receive a concession. Prosecutors also allege companies operating in the country are sometimes required to contribute money to "what are disguised as public service campaigns."
The civil complaints filed in Washington and in California stem from the Justice Department's Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, a program that targets proceeds from allegedly corrupt schemes.
This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.