A top official of Equatorial Guinea, the son of the African country’s longtime leader, agreed to a $30 million settlement to resolve the U.S. government’s allegations that he used money plundered from his country to amass assets such as a California mansion, a jet and Michael Jackson memorabilia including a crystal-encrusted glove.
Under the settlement the Justice Department announced Friday, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue will get to keep a Gulfstream jet and most of his Michael Jackson collection, including the white glove from Jackson’s “Bad” world tour. Those assets aren’t in the United States, the Justice Department said, though they could be subject to seizure if they ever come to the United States.
Nguema Obiang is a second vice president of Equatorial Guinea, rich in oil and other resources but reputed by transparency advocates to be among the most corrupt and repressive countries in the world.
Nguema Obiang has disputed the U.S. allegations and said the assets, including a $30 million Malibu, California, mansion, were purchased with his own money, proceeds from businesses he owned. He admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement. In his government position, Nguema Obiang was paid a salary of less than $100,000.
Leslie Caldwell, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, said the settlement helps accomplish the U.S. government’s goal of keeping corrupt foreign officials from using the U.S. financial system to hide money stolen from their own people.
“Through relentless embezzlement and extortion, Vice President Nguema Obiang shamelessly looted his government and shook down businesses in his country to support his lavish lifestyle, while many of his fellow citizens lived in extreme poverty,” Caldwell said. “After raking in millions in bribes and kickbacks, Nguema Obiang embarked on a corruption-fueled spending spree in the United States.”
Under the deal with the Justice Department, Nguema Obiang will have to sell the Malibu mansion, a Ferrari and items from the Michael Jackson collection located in the United States. He will have to pay $20 million to a charity, which has yet to be selected, with the aim of providing benefit to the people of Equatorial Guinea. The U.S. government will keep $10.3 million under the settlement.
“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,” said Thomas Winkowski, acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Nguema Obiang will continue to be able to travel to the United States because he is protected by diplomatic immunity, and the U.S. government was unable to reach hundreds of millions of assets.
Caldwell told reporters in a conference call Friday that she still considered the agreement “a very significant settlement.”
As part of the settlement, Nguema Obiang will have to pay $1 million to cover the value of the Michael Jackson collection and other assets the United States wasn’t able to seize.
“He’s not giving up the Michael Jackson glove, but he’s giving up the value of the glove,” she said.
Western officials often cite Equatorial Guinea as an example of a resource-rich country that is plagued by kleptocracy problems. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in power since 1979 and the vast majority of his citizens live in poverty. In recent years, anti-corruption groups have tried to draw attention to the ruling family’s assets in Europe and the United States.