We all value the little bolt-hole we call home – be it ever so humble, etc. Well, for the hard-working Second Vice President of Equatorial Guinea, it’s this modest dwelling. Overlooking the Malibu coastline in California, this mansion has six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a swimming pool, a tennis court and a four-hole golf course. Teodorin Obiang bought it in March 2008, when he was a mere Minister of Agriculture and Fishery on an annual salary of £32,400. As they say in those gruesome American teen comedies, you do the math.
At the start of this month, however, events finally caught up with the SVP of EG. After a three-year battle with the US authorities trying unsuccessfully to explain the math to them, Teodorin has agreed to hand over many of his assets, including the Malibu mansion (now valued at £19 million), a Ferrari, and a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia (including a crystal-encrusted glove). (I know, I know: I feel every bit as ridiculous writing this stuff as you do reading it.) The Americans have stated that US$20 million of the seized assets will be given to a charitable organisation to be used to benefit the people of Equatorial Guinea (colour me cynical, but they’d better keep a very close eye on who’s administering that payout…) while another $10.3 million will be forfeited to the US government, which will use the money to benefit the African country’s people.
This case is legally significant, as explained by Ken Hurwitz, a senior legal officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative: “It is an extraordinary case in that this is the first case where [it is] a living person whose assets are being seized. And it is the first case in the United States… [in which] the attempt is to seize assets that are owned by the current rulers, people who still maintain power in their countries.” Other civil forfeiture cases have been brought against corrupt rulers – but only years after they have died or left power, often making it difficult to track down and define the assets allegedly stolen by them. Perhaps Teodorin’s new homelessness will mark the card of other dodgy PEPs still in power.