Millionaire’s playground: a house in Malibu, California
A lengthy investigation by international NGO Global Witness revealed that Teodorin Obiang, son of the dictator of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, purchased a $33m private jet, a $35m Malibu mansion, speedboats and a fleet of fast cars, which he bought, it was claimed, with corruptly acquired cash.
The NGO alleged that Teodorin used his position as Minister of Forestry and his ownership of two logging companies to ‘enrich himself through corrupt schemes in the timber industry’.
Yesterday, in a victory for this first-class investigative reporting, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) moved to seize Obiang’s goods, unsealing an asset forfeiture claim against $70.8m worth of assets which they allege were appropriated through ‘the misappropriation, theft, or embezzlement of public funds by or for the benefit of a public official’.
In 2009, Global Witness revealed that Teodorin transferred about $75m into US banks between 2005 and 2007, via wire transfers processed by Bank of America, Wachovia, UBS, Union Bank of California and First American Trust. Not bad for someone earning a salary of $6,799 a month.
The DoJ has been criticised by Global Witness in the past for failing to take action against Obiang, who, ‘despite ample evidence against him’, was still allowed access to the US.
However, ‘by taking action to seize this house, the US is finally starting to send a strong message that it does not want to be a safe haven for ill-gotten loot and vast, unexplained wealth,’ said Robert Palmer, a campaigner with Global Witness. ‘This should keep suspected kleptocrats with assets in the US awake at night.’
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