WASHINGTON, April 13 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge said prosecutors must provide more evidence to support allegations that the son of Equatorial Guinea’s president illegally took millions of dollars to live a lavish lifestyle including buying a jet, luxury vehicles and pop singer Michael Jackson memorabilia.
U.S. District Judge George Wu on Thursday said he would dismiss prosecutors’ attempt to seize property owned by Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, the son of longtime Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mbasogo.
But at the same time, Wu agreed to permit prosecutors to amend their complaint with more supporting facts, according to a seven-page ruling.
A Justice Department spokeswoman noted that the judge granted 60 days to amend the complaint and prosecutors will do so.
In other similar forfeiture cases, complaints have been dismissed and then later amended and proceeded in the courts.
The son Obiang serves as the minister of forestry and agriculture in the impoverished West African nation of Equatorial Guinea where 70 percent of the population falls below the poverty line. He earns about $6,800 a month in salary.
Yet, Obiang bought a $30 million Malibu estate, a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet, and $1.8 million in Jackson memorabilia with funds he illegally obtained through various bribery and money laundering schemes, according to U.S. prosecutors who have sought to seize those assets.
Obiang’s attorneys requested that the complaint be dismissed, arguing that prosecutors failed to adequately prove their claims and that Obiang received a concession to harvest timber in his country, which made him wealthy.
Judge Wu said that the complaint filed last year lacked sufficient facts to support allegations that the assets were acquired through money laundering, extortion, misappropriation or embezzlement.
In a procedural move in such asset forfeiture cases, Wu said he would grant the motion to dismiss but gave prosecutors until June 11 to file an amended complaint, according to a filing with the federal court in Los Angeles, California.
A separate case to seize the Gulfstream jet is proceeding in federal court in Washington, D.C.
A U.S.-based spokesman for Obiang was not immediately available for comment.
Obiang is also feeling pressure from authorities in France. Earlier this week, a prosecutor there approved an investigator’s request for an international arrest warrant for Obiang on money laundering charges, a judicial source said on Wednesday. (Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)