LOS ANGELES — The son of Equatorial Guinea’s president plundered his country’s natural resources through corruption, spending more than $70 million in looted profits on a Malibu mansion, a Gulfstream jet and Michael Jackson memorabilia, the U.S. government said.
In what appeared to be a concerted action, France last month seized 11 luxury sports cars belonging to Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue, a government minister in the West African country and heir-apparent to the presidency.
And a Spanish investigative judge has been asked to seize properties in Madrid and Las Palmas in the Canary Islands owned by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, his sons and some ministers, acting on a case brought by the Pro-Human Rights Association of Spain.
Teodorin Obiang, who is in his early 40s, used his position to siphon millions of dollars for his own personal use, U.S. authorities said in two civil forfeiture complaints filed in the District Court in Los Angeles and Washington.
The complaints say Mr. Obiang’s assets can be forfeited because he engaged in misappropriation and theft of public funds for his benefit.
The U.S. government is seeking to recover $70 million in stolen funds from Mr. Obiang for “the benefit of the people of the country from which it was taken.”
“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
An email message left for Purificacion Angue Ondo, Equatorial Guinea’s ambassador to the U.S., was not immediately returned.
President Obiang has denied charges of corruption in the past.
Teodorin Obiang told a South African court in 2005, in a dispute about two Cape Town mansions valued at $4 million, that he earned $4,000 a month as a minister but that in his country it is legal for companies owned by ministers to bid for government contracts with foreign groups and receive “a percentage of the total contract.”
U.S. authorities believe Teodorin Obiang amassed more than $100 million through various schemes while he served as the country’s forestry minister.
His current government salary is about $6,800 a month, according to court documents.
The U.S. action follows years of investigations including a Justice Department and Immigration and Customs aDepartment probe that showed Mr. Obiang transferred about $75 million into U.S. banks between 2005 and 2007, and indicated U.S. banks had not shown due diligence.
This came after the Obiang fortunes helped bring down the once-venerable Riggs Bank in 2004, when a Senate Banking Committee investigation found the bank had “turned a blind eye” to evidence it was handling proceeds of foreign corruption in deposits of some $700 million deposited by its biggest customers - Equatorial Guinea government entities, senior officials and Obiang family members.
One bank official gave evidence that more than a million dollars was brought to the bank in one instance in cash enfolded in plastic wrap.