Open Society Justice Initiative Welcomes Legal Move on Assets of Equatorial Guinea's Obiang Family

NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative welcomes the initiation of legal action by the U.S. Department of Justice targeting a $35m mansion in Malibu, California, owned by Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the son of President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea.

The department has filed a “lis pendens,” or official notice of pending litigation, in the property records registry of Los Angeles County—a first step towards potentially freezing or seizing the house. The move comes more than seven years after a senate investigating committee reported evidence suggesting the involvement of the Obiang family in money laundering.

The U.S. action follows the seizure by French police last month of millions of dollars of luxury automobiles owned by Teodorin in connection with ongoing corruption investigation of Obiang family members in France. 

The Open Society Justice Initiative is working with  Asociación pro Derechos Humanos de España on a similar proceeding that has been opened by Spanish magistrates, who are scrutinizing the suspected diversion of over $26m of Equatorial Guinea oil revenues from the government account at Riggs Bank to the benefit of Obiang family members and associates.

Forbes magazine reported that the 15,000 square foot, eight-bedroom Malibu mansion was the sixth most expensive home purchase in the U.S. in 2006. Teodorin Obiang’s official salary as Minister of Forestry is about $70,000 a year. 

Ken Hurwitz, senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “We welcome this move by the Department of Justice. It looks like the U.S. is not prepared to give Equatorial Guinea’s rulers a free pass when it comes to U.S. laws against money laundering and foreign corruption.” 

U.S. Senate investigations in 2004 and again in 2010 unearthed evidence that tens of millions of dollars of Equatorial Guinea’s oil earnings had been diverted through the now-defunct Riggs Bank in Washington DC and other U.S. accounts. The 2010 U.S. state department human rights report highlighted extensive government corruption in the country, and said that the president and members of his inner circle had amassed personal profits from the country’s oil revenues.

With a nominal per capita GDP of $36,600, according to U.S. government data, Equatorial Guinea’s 650,000 people could be enjoying living standards comparable to people in France (per capita GDP of $33,100) or Germany ($35,700). Instead, many Equatoguineans lack access to clean water or modern sanitation.

 The Obiang regime defends its privileges through brutal repression, including the systematic use of torture.