Prosecutors moved to seize assets, including a 157-acre undeveloped mountaintop overlooking Los Angeles, purchased with funds allegedly embezzled by former high-level officials in Kuwait's Ministry of Defense, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced Friday.
Ex-Kuwaiti officials allegedly used the defense ministry's London office to open at least six unauthorized bank accounts between 2009 and 2016 and transferred more than $100 million of Kuwaiti public funds from the National Bank of Kuwait into the London accounts, according to complaints for forfeiture filed in Los Angeles federal court Thursday.
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Prosecutors allege that in order to disguise the nature of the transfers, some were falsely described as being intended for military purposes. According to the complaints, the funds were actually transferred to several California entities and had no business or contractual relationship with the MOD.
The United States seeks to recover at least $104 million allegedly laundered into and through U.S. financial institutions, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Once listed for $1 billion, the Beverly Hills mountaintop property sold last year for a mere $100,000 to its lender at a foreclosure auction, after decades in the real estate market. For reference, Anaheim's Disneyland, at roughly 0.13 square miles, is a little more than half the size of the property.
The land has been owned by trusts, entities and celebrities, including talk show host and game show producer Merv Griffin, since the 1970s, according to Forbes. It was purchased in the 1970s by the sister of the shah of Iran before being sold to Griffin, according to CNBC.
According to the complaints, the pilfered funds, once transferred to the California bank accounts, were used to purchase or contribute to the improvement of the parcel of land at 1652 Tower Park Drive in Beverly Hills, known as the Mountain, three homes in Beverly Hills, a penthouse and an apartment in Westwood, a private jet, a yacht, a Lamborghini sports car and $40,000 worth of memorabilia of boxer Manny Pacquiao.
Each asset is subject to the forfeiture complaints.
Federal prosecutors said the California entities that received the illicit funds are allegedly connected to a Los Angeles man -- Victorino Noval, 58, formerly known as Victor Jesus Noval -- who was convicted in 2003 of mail fraud and tax evasion in connection with a multimillion-dollar loan fraud committed against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Noval was sentenced to 57 months in federal prison and ordered to pay more than $25 million in restitution.