The World in U.S. Courts: Summer 2013 - Criminal Law | April.19.2013
The federal court in Washington, D.C. dismissed a forfeiture action against a $38.5 million Gulfstream jet purchased by a government minister of Equatorial Guinea (and the son of the country’s president). The U.S. government’s complaint largely rested on assumptions of wrongdoing given that the minister’s lavish lifestyle could not have been financed with his modest government salary. In light of his salary and the corruption of Equatorial Guinea’s “inner circle,” the government alleged that the luxury purchases—including the Gulfstream jet—were made possible by misappropriated public funds and extortion.
The applicable pleading standards for forfeiture actions, however, require more. The court held that to survive a motion to dismiss under the Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions, a complaint must allege enough specific facts for the court to infer that the subject property is subject to forfeiture. Because the government’s allegations provided a weak basis for inferring that the Gulfstream was purchased with ill-gotten funds, the court dismissed the complaint, but granted leave to amend.