Open Society Justice Initiative Welcomes Landmark Obiang Kleptocracy Settlement

NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative today welcomed the outcome of an anti-corruption case brought by the United States against Teodorin Nguema Obiang, the heir apparent to President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, in the first U.S. legal action of its kind to target the family of a sitting head of state.

Under the terms of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Nguema Obiang must sell a $30m mansion located in Malibu, California, a Ferrari automobile and several life-sized statues of the late Michael Jackson, which it says were purchased with the proceeds of corrupt dealings in Equatorial Guinea.  

Of those proceeds, $20m will be given to a charitable organization to be used for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea.  Another $10.3m will be forfeited to the United States and will be used for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea.

Ken Hurwitz, who heads the Justice Initiative’s anti-corruption work, said:

“This settlement will be welcomed by those in Equatorial Guinea who are unable to take action themselves against a repressive government that is deeply tarnished by both corruption and brutality.”

“It shows that the United States will take action against the proceeds of corruption, even when it involves those with close political and economic ties to Washington. In doing so, the Department of Justice’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative has also set a standard that other developed countries around the world should seek to meet or exceed.” 

The Justice Department had filed civil forfeiture claims against U.S. based assets worth over $70m in April, 2011, alleging that they had been bought with the proceeds of corruption.

Under the settlement agreement, Nguema Obiang must also disclose and remove other assets he owns in the United States. Nguema Obiang must also make a $1m payment to the United States, representing the value of Michael Jackson memorabilia already removed from the United States for disbursement to the charitable organization.  The agreement also provides that if certain of Nguema Obiang’s other assets, including a Gulfstream Jet, are ever brought into the United States, they are subject to seizure and forfeiture.

The significance of the U.S. case is enhanced by the fact that it breaks with the more common pattern of waiting until a corrupt family’s rule has ended before tracking down their assets: in contrast, Teodorin’s family is still very much in control in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, most of whose oil and gas is pumped by US companies. 

The Justice Initiative is also collaborating with the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de España (APDHE), a Spanish human rights legal group, in a money laundering case brought in Spain against the Obiang family, which has controlled Equatorial Guinea for over 30 years.