The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday announced almost $27 million that was seized from Equatorial Guinea’s vice president Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue will be “used to fight COVID-19 and address medical needs” in his country.
Per the agreement, $19.25 million will be given to the United Nations to acquire and distribute COVID-19 vaccines in the country, while a US-based medical non-profit organization will also receive $6.35 million “for the purchase and distribution of medicines and medical supplies throughout Equatorial Guinea,” CNN reported.
The department seized a number of assets it alleged Obiang acquired with “illicit proceeds.” This includes a collection of luxury cars and $275,000 jewel-encrusted gloves that were previously owned by Michael Jackson.
The announcement also follows a forfeiture agreement Obiang reached with the United States in 2014. “Pursuant to the terms of a 2014 settlement agreement, Obiang Mangue was required to sell a Malibu, California, mansion that he purchased for $30 million, a Ferrari automobile and various items of Michael Jackson memorabilia, and to contribute $1 million representing the value of other property,” the statement said.
It was also agreed the United States would receive $10.3 million of the forfeited funds, while the rest of the proceeds will be “distributed to a charity or other organization for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea.”
But despite the agreement and allegations, Obiang has denied any wrongdoing. Corruption in Equatorial Guinea, one of Africa’s poorest countries, has been a major impediment to the country’s economic development as the small revenue generated from the nation’s oil deposits ends up in the pockets of a handful of government officials and bureaucrats. A World Bank report also states that over 70% of the country’s population live in poverty, CNN reported.
“Wherever possible, Kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. said in the statement. “The department’s tenacity in ensuring that these funds be returned for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea demonstrates our commitment to making sure a nation’s resources are used to benefit the people of that nation and are not siphoned off inappropriately.”
For many years, Obiang, who is known for his lavish lifestyle, has been the subject of many corruption and money laundering inquiries, both at home and abroad.
In 2017, a court in France handed the 53-year-old vice president a three-year suspended jail term for corruption and money laundering. And besides being fined €30 million (now $35m), the court also ordered the seizure of his prized assets in France that were estimated to be worth more than €100 million at the time.
Authorities in Switzerland also put up $10 million worth of luxury cars belonging to him for auction in 2019. The cars were seized in 2016 by the government of Switzerland on suspicion of money laundering and mismanagement of public assets, charges he denied, claiming he did not own the vehicles. This was immediately followed by the seizure of his 250-feet luxurious yacht worth $120 million by the Dutch over the same charges.
Obiang’s father, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, is Africa’s longest-serving president. The 79-year-old assumed power in the Central African nation in 1979 following a coup.