An October 25th press release describes a forfeiture effort pursued by the U.S. Government against Teodorin Nguema Obiang, Equatorial Guinea’s Minister of Forestry and Agriculture and the first son of Equatorial Guinea’s head of state. For me, this press release raises another issue: Could Equatorial Guinea nationals commence a lawsuit in the U.S. against Nguema and Equatorial Guinea?
Such a lawsuit might claim that Nguema collected vast sums of monies during an alleged public corruption scheme originating in Equatorial Guinea. It could also allege that Nguema had possibly used the supposed corruption proceeds to help fund his lavish lifestyle which included the purchase of this palatial Malibu, California mansion at 3620 Sweetwater Mesa Road:
Among the many questions this prospective lawsuit raises, are: Would the claimants who are Equatorial Guinea nationals, possess a cognizable claim in a lawsuit filed in the U.S.?; and Could Equatorial Guineas’ immunity from lawsuits, (as contemplated by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act), be avoided because of the “commercial activity” or “takings” exceptions at 28 U.S.C. §§ 1605(a) (2) or (a) (3)?
Another cause for concern is that this lawsuit would be filed on the heels of the asset forfeiture effort underway against Nguema, which is discussed by the October 25th press release. The lawsuit would end up putting its claimants in the untenable position of competing with the Government’s forfeiture effort which too seeks to recover Nguema’s assets.
The Government began its forfeiture effort after Nguema was mentioned at the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations’ report “Keeping Foreign Corruption Out Of The United States: Four Case Histories“. The Government’s April 26, 2011 forfeiture complaint had specifically targeted the Malibu mansion pictured above; a Gulfstream G-V jet aircraft recently spotted in Equatorial New Guinea; and other assets Nguema seemed to beneficially own.
The Government’s complaint was filed in federal court in California and claimed that Nguema participated in corruption schemes in violation of Equatorial Guinea criminal law / the Spanish Penal Code of 1968. This complaint also alleged that Nguema had laundered suspected corruption proceeds by using them to purchase the Malibu mansion, the Gulfstream jet and other valuable assets.
Given all of the foregoing, on May 18, 2011, the Government applied to the federal court in California for a restraining order and other relief. The court’s grant of this application would have helped the Government seize any of Nguema’s assets maintained offshore, including the Gulfstream jet. Ex-Parte Application For Post-Complaint Order To Seize, Secure And Maintain Defendant Assets Located Outside The United States, filed May 18, 2011.
The California federal court meanwhile, ultimately denied the May 18th application, as revealed by minutes from a May 20, 2011 oral argument. After the Government’s failed effort to restrain the Gulfstream jet, the Government filed an October 13, 2011 amended complaint in California federal court. The October 13th complaint dropped the Gulfstream jet from the Government’s California forfeiture effort. By doing this maneuver, the Government could conceivably proceed in a new forum with a new complaint about the Gulfstream jet.
Stated differently, the Government might have a second bite at the apple and revisit the issue of the Gulfstream jet in front of a brand new judge. All of this appears to have actually happened when the Government filed its October 24, 2011 forfeiture complaint in D.C. federal court. Immediately after this filing, the Government procured a warrant of arrest in rem for the Gulfstream jet. Foreign states might now grant mutual legal assistance treaty relief and try to seize the Gulfstream jet because of the warrant:
Aerial Photo 3620 Sweetwater Mesa Road: Google
Copyright 2011 Fred L. Abrams