Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Remember the scandal that brought down Riggs bank ? The bank's largest single depositor at the time, with over $700m,  was reportedly the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, a major African oil producer. The US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Report later exposed the bank's willful blindness, though curiously, none of the responsible bank officers and board members were ever charged with a crime. Access to Riggs Bank accounts, where the country's oil revenues were deposited, was freely available to members of the country's inner circle of PEPs.

The eldest son of the country's president for the past 30 years (who came to power in a coup d' état)  is Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who earns a salary of less than $100,00 per year as minister of Agriculture and Forestry, but has a reputed $70.8m in assets in the United States. How did he manage to accumulate all this wealth ? Through corruption at an extreme level. He forced timber companies working in Equatorial Guinea to pay him obscenely high fees, and he also collected mandatory contributions, allegedly for public improvements, but which he kept for his own use. He also used the threat of criminal action to coerce payments from foreign companies.

The United States Department of Justice has filed a civil forfeiture* suit in Rem against real property and personal property of Obiang, alleging that he acquired his wealth through embezzlement, extortion, theft of public funds, and money laundering, all specified unlawful activity, and "property involved in acts of money laundering."

The style of the case says it all:
United States of America vs. One White Crystal-Covered "Bad Tour" Glove, and other Michael Jackson Memorabilia, Real Property Located in Sweetwater Mesa Road in Malibu, California, and One 2011 Ferrari 59 GTO.

The house is reportedly worth $30m, there is a Gulfstream G-V business jet, 24 luxury cars, and much more, including $2m of Michael Jackson Memorabilia.

Is this just the tip of the iceberg, and will more assets of ill-gotten gains of the world's corrupt leaders be seized ? We cannot say, but it will be extremely interesting to watch the responses of the other corrupt leaders who hold assets in the US. Will they flee ?
Case No.: 2:11-cv-3582-GW (CDCA).

For further reading:
French Police Seize Eleven Luxury Cars in Paris in Money Laundering Investigation,  6 October, 2011. (scroll down to read this article).

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