An exhibit of Michael Jackson memorabilia – including a diamond-studded Bad Tour glove and the autographed jacket worn in the Thriller video – is scheduled to begin next month.
Global fans of MJ may be disappointed to learn that, to see the exhibit, they will need to book an expensive trip to Equatorial Guinea, where it is taking place.
Global fans of justice will be disappointed to learn that the iconic, and very expensive, memorabilia is now owned by Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue (“Teodorín”), the eldest son and 2nd Vice-President of President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea. Teodorín is at the centre of ongoing corruption investigations by both American and French authorities.
Detailed documents in the US investigation allege that Teodorín spent more than $300 million on luxury homes, fast cars, artwork, high-end furniture, wines, clothing, and yes, MJ memorabilia, around the world between 2000 and 2011. Meanwhile, more than 1 in 7 children under the age of 5 were dying from preventable diseases inside his country, and poverty remains rampant.
According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Teodorín masked his identity using phantom firms with innocent sounding names like Sweet Pink, Inc., Unlimited Horizon, Inc., Beautiful Vision, Inc., Sweetwater Management, Sweetwater Canyon, Sweetwater Malibu, LLC, and Ebony Shine International Ltd.
Through these companies he purchased a $30 million seaside mansion in Malibu, California, a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, and storage for his newly acquired Michael Jackson memorabilia. The DOJ moved to seize these luxury items, alleging that they were obtained using money linked to corruption in Equatorial Guinea.
Thanks to the US’s refreshingly transparent judicial process, the documents filed by the DOJ in the case are publicly available. They make for riveting reading, detailing a Hollywood-esque account of alleged extortion, money laundering, complicit US lawyers and banks, and extravagant spending.
Last month, a California court threw out the case, ruling that the DOJ had failed to meet the burden of proof in demonstrating that the money used to purchase the luxury goods was linked to corruption. For obvious reasons, the government of Equatorial Guinea refused to cooperate with the DOJ and hand over relevant records, forcing the DOJ to rely heavily on circumstantial evidence compelling enough to cause them to bring a case. The judge in the case will allow the DOJ to continue to pursue forfeiture on the grounds that Teodorín committed bank fraud, and may allow the DOJ to file a new forfeiture case if it can provide additional evidence.
Despite this, the government of Equatorial Guinea is treating the court’s decision as if it were the final ruling in the matter, and celebrating that “the objects of Michael Jackson have been returned once again to their rightful owner, who is a sincere and passionate admirer of the African American singer.”
According to French and US authorities, he may also be one Smooth Criminal.
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.
Sign our petition now and help ensure that resources are used to fight extreme poverty rather than lost to dodgy deals.