US settles suit with African official over assets
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The son of Equatorial Guinea’s president must sell a $30 million Malibu mansion, a Ferrari and Michael Jackson memorabilia and then give the proceeds to the citizens of his impoverished country under a settlement announced Friday by U.S. authorities, who said he bought the lavish items with money stolen from the African nation.
Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who is also Equatorial Guinea’s second vice president, agreed to turn over $20 million from the sale of these assets to a charitable organization to be used to benefit the people of his country, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Another $10.3 million will be forfeited to the U.S. government, which will use the money to benefit Equatorial Guinea’s people to the extent permitted by law. He will also pay $1 million to cover the value of Michael Jackson memorabilia already removed from the United States, including a “Thriller” jacket and crystal-covered glove, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said.
“While this settlement is certainly gratifying for the many investigators and prosecutors who worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition, it is undoubtedly even more rewarding for the people of Equatorial Guinea, knowing that at least some of the money plundered from their country’s coffers is being returned to them,” Thomas Winkowski, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement.
Despite recent oil and gas wealth in Equatorial Guinea, most of the 750,000 people in the coastal country live in poverty. Since the economic boom, U.S. authorities say Nguema Obiang Mangue and other officials have amassed a vast amount of wealth through extortion, embezzlement and other acts of corruption.
No one was immediately available to comment on the settlement at the Equatorial Guinea Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Nguema Obiang Mangue said in a statement that he was pleased to put an end to the proceedings, even though his property “was acquired with funds earned in accordance with the laws of my country and through business dealings inside and outside Equatorial Guinea.”
He said he hoped the settlement would help improve the relationship between his country and the United States. “For the good of my country, it was important to resolve this matter and put the relationship back on firm footing,” he said.
U.S. authorities filed civil-forfeiture cases three years ago, alleging Nguema Obiang Mangue spent $70 million in looted profits on the mansion — which has a nine-hole golf course, a Gulfstream jet and the Michael Jackson memorabilia. Authorities say his official government salary was less than $100,000, and he used his position and influence to garner more than $300 million through corruption and money laundering.