For the past seven years, various arms of the U.S. government have been investigating Teodoro "Teodorin" Nguema Obiang Mangue, the corrupt, playboy son of the dictator of Equatorial Guinea, who owns a $30 million-plus mansion in Malibu, California. Thousands and thousands of pages of documents have been compiled by investigators -- led by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, the Justice Department and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) -- detailing massive corruption, money-laundering, and general debauchery on the part of Teodorin, yet no legal action resulted.
That changed today when the Justice Department filed civil forfeiture complaints seeking approximately $70.8 million of Teodorin's assets -- his Malibu mansion, a rare Ferrari, and a $38.5 million Gulfstream G-V jet, and roughly $1.1 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia, including a "white crystal covered 'Bad Tour' glove" -- which the government "alleges is the proceeds of foreign corruption offenses and was laundered in the United States," according to a statement by Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton.
It is significant and laudatory that the U.S. government has finally taken real, consequential action against Teodorin. But it's unfortunate that the investigation dragged on so long that it allowed him to ship the majority of his U.S.-based assets overseas, where they are now likely beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. In particular according to the filing, the $38.5 million Gulfstream G-V jet is, as of Oct. 12, located back in Equatorial Guinea. Moreover, with billions of dollars of U.S. oil company investment in Equatorial Guinea, the United States continues to be reluctant to censure that government over significant and repeated human rights violations.
The Obiang saga started in 2004, when the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued a report (opened after a Los Angeles Times story I wrote the prior year) that found that Teodorin's father -- Teodoro Obiang, who has ruled since seizing power in 1979 coup -- controlled as much as $700 million in state funds at Riggs Bank in Washington, D.C., deposited overwhelmingly by U.S. oil companies. The Senate panel said Riggs Bank (later bought by PNC) opened multiple accounts for Obiang and helped the president stash his wealth in offshore shell corporations.
A detailed report last year, also by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, found that Teodorin, who had been appointed Equatorial Guinea's minister of agriculture and forestry, used shell companies to evade money-laundering laws and funnel more than $100 million into the United States. He used the funds to buy the Malibu property, a personal jet, and a small fleet of luxury cars.