This $4 million villa in southern France was once owned by former President of Zaire, Mobuto Sese Seko. He plundered an estimated $4 to 5 billion from the country during his 32 years in power.
Corrupt politicians and dodgy businesses are stealing millions of dollars from the countries they are supposed to serve, using phantom firms and tax havens to do it. They often then buy valuable property overseas in the most desirable parts of the world.
Phantom firms are fake companies set up to hide the identity of the people who control them, often only existing on paper. They are used to move money out of developing countries and into bank accounts, which can then be used to buy properties like these.
The good news is that these dodgy dealers don’t always get away with it. Come along for a virtual tour of some of the seized properties of disgraced politicians and company bosses.
One of the most prolific buyers of property on our tour is Cecilia Ibru, the former managing director of Oceanic Bank. She was sentenced to six months in prison for fraud and ordered to hand over $1.2 billion in cash and assets. Authorities seized an incredible 103 properties in the United States, Nigeria, South Africa, Dubai and London.
Teodorin Obiang, the son of President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, has had estates seized in Malibu, California and Paris, as well as sports cars and Michael Jackson memorabilia valued at $1.8 million (including a while jewel-encrusted glove from the Bad tour).
Though famous for her vast shoe collection, Imelda Marcos, wife of former President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos, also had a penchant for New York real estate. The World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative estimates they siphoned between $5 to 10 billion from the country.
What role to banks play in all of this? Some, unwittingly or otherwise, have helped their clients launder money. The Saudi Arabian royal family, the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and the Obiang family of Equatorial Guinea all banked at Washington, D.C.-based Riggs Bank.
Riggs was investigated by the FBI and Congress for terrorist financing and money laundering. According to a US Senate investigation, Riggs Bank accepted cash deposits of $1 million or more for accounts linked to officials from Equatorial Guinea. An employee of the bank testified that, on at least two occasions, these cash deposits arrived at the bank in suitcases weighing as much as 60 lbs. In violation of US law, the bank failed to report this as suspicious activity and were fined $50m.
ONE is taking on the phantom firms that enable billions to be stolen from the countries that most desperately need it. Right now, the UK government is considering proposals to crack down on phantom firms, and other European countries will be doing the same soon.