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Financial Crimes
10/25/2011

ICE HSI and DOJ seek to recover more than $70.8 million in corruption proceeds from government minister of Equatorial Guinea

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government filed two civil forfeiture complaints today against approximately $70.8 million in real and personal property, which the government alleges are the proceeds of foreign corruption offenses and was laundered in the United States.

An amended civil forfeiture complaint was filed today in the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California and a separate civil forfeiture complaint was filed today in the District of Columbia. According to the complaints, Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue used his position and influence as a government minister for Equatorial Guinea and his association with President Obiang Mbasogo, who is his father, to acquire criminal proceeds through corruption and money laundering, in violation of both Equatoguinean and U.S. law.

"The complaints announced today allege that, on a modest government salary, Minister Nguema amassed wealth of over $100 million," said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. "While his people struggled, he lived the high life – purchasing a Gulfstream jet, a Malibu mansion, and nearly $2 million in Michael Jackson memorabilia. Alleging that these extravagant items are the proceeds of foreign official corruption, the Department of Justice is seeking to seize them through coordinated forfeiture actions. Through our Kleptocracy Initiative, we are sending the message loud and clear: the United States will not be a hiding place for the ill-gotten riches of the world's corrupt leaders."

"This investigation was initiated by ICE Homeland Security Investigations in an effort to identify Teodoro Nguema Obiang's assets in the United States after he was suspected of obtaining his wealth from alleged illicit activities such as the misappropriation of public funds, theft, extortion, and embezzlement of the nation's natural resources," said ICE Director John Morton. "ICE HSI will continue to work with our law enforcement partners both here and abroad to hold these individuals accountable by denying them the enjoyment of their ill gotten gains."

According to the complaints, despite a relatively modest government salary, Nguema amassed more than $100 million during a period in which members of the Obiang family and their associates were the near-exclusive beneficiaries of the extraction and sale of Equatorial Guinea's natural resources. Under Equatoguinean law, the natural resources belong to the people of Equatorial Guinea. The complaints allege that Nguema used intermediaries and shell companies to acquire numerous assets in the United States, including more than $1.8 million worth of Michael Jackson memorabilia, a $38.5 million Gulfstream G-V jet, a $30 million house in Malibu, Calif., and a 2011 Ferrari automobile valued at more than $530,000.

The investigation was conducted by ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Foreign Corruption Investigations Group and the HSI Asset Identification and Removal Group in Miami with the assistance of the HSI Office of the Special Agent in Charge, Los Angeles.

In 2003, ICE HSI established the Foreign Corruption Investigations Group in Miami to target corrupt foreign officials around the world that attempt to utilize U.S. financial institutions to launder illicit funds. The group conducts investigations into the laundering of proceeds emanating from foreign public corruption, bribery or embezzlement. The objective is to prevent foreign derived ill-gotten gains from entering the U.S. financial infrastructure, to seize identified assets in the U.S., and repatriate these funds on behalf of those affected by foreign official corruption.

The cases originated as part of the Justice Department's Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which targets and recovers the proceeds of foreign official corruption that have been laundered into or through the United States. As part of the initiative, the Justice Department will seek to forfeit and return the stolen funds to the people of the country from whom it was taken.

The cases are being handled by Senior Trial Attorney Janet C. Hudson and Trial Attorney Woo Lee of the Criminal Division's Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Welk, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Section in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption in the United States, or funds laundered through institutions in the United States, should contact ICE HSI at 866-DHS-2ICE, www.ice.gov/tips or 802-872-6199 if calling from outside the United States.