Thursday, August 22, 2013

Federal Judge Dismisses Case Against Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President

Justice Department did not show probable cause to bring civil action.
Vice President Nguema is willing to meet with the U.S. government to settle issues raised in the case.  

A federal judge in California has granted a motion for summary judgment to Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President, dismissing the U.S. government’s claims that the Vice President had violated the laws of Equatorial Guinea. U.S. District Judge George H. Wu ruled that the government did not have probable cause to bring those charges.

The Department of Justice filed suit in 2011 to seize certain of Mr. Nguema’s assets, including a home in Malibu and a collection of Michael Jackson memorabilia. At that time, the U.S. government claimed that Vice President Nguema had violated the laws of Equatorial Guinea, that he had amassed a large fortune from those violations, and that he then used those funds to acquire assets in the United States.

The court ruled on August 20, 2013, in the case of United States of America v. One White Crystal Covered Bad Tour Glove and Other Michael Jackson Memorabilia that the U.S. government did not have probable cause at the time it initiated the action. And that the evidence the government presented was insufficient to meet the required legal standards.

“The U.S. government claimed that the Vice President violated Equatorial Guinea law, but the government had not identified a single victim of any of the criminal activity or identified an illegal contract or any type of illegal activity,” said attorney Duane Lyons, who represented Mr. Nguema before the court.  

“In fact, the court noted that the only thing that the government could point to was that the Vice President had spent a significant amount of money. Most of the government’s allegations were based on rumors from newspapers and magazines. The government can rely on those to some degree, but in the first instance they must corroborate or determine that the sources of those newspaper articles are reliable, and the government did not do that,” Mr. Lyons said.

The government made no effort to confirm any of those allegations, said Mr. Lyons, a former Assistant United States Attorney.

“That newspaper they relied on was insufficiently credible to support probable cause, so the court rejected the government’s contention that there was probable cause to commence this action, and granted the motion,” he said.

This decision made final Judge Wu’s tentative ruling in this case. The court allowed the U.S. government to file two amended complaints in order to demonstrate that it possessed the evidence required by law at the time it initiated this action. The court concluded that none of the evidence in the U.S. government’s possession at the time it commenced this action provided probable cause to believe that Vice President Nguema had violated the laws of Equatorial Guinea.

The government also claimed that Mr. Nguema had violated United States law regarding bank fraud. That claim was not pleaded in the original complaint, but was included in an amended complaint in 2012. The court has ruled that those claims can go forward.

“The Vice President will be defending those claims,” said Mr. Lyons, “and we are confident that at the conclusion of the case, the evidence will demonstrate that the Vice President did not violate the domestic law of bank fraud. “

Mr. Lyons said that Vice President Nguema remains willing to work with the U.S. government to try to reach a reasonable resolution of the issues raised in this case.

“In the past, the Vice President has offered to sit down and meet with representatives of the government to discuss a path that might resolve this case amicably so that both countries can move forward with a positive relationship, and we hope that the U.S. government will look at the status of the case as it currently sits and come to the conclusion that now will be a time to discuss some meaningful path toward settlement,” said Lyons.