Federal prosecutors in Miami are seeking to seize a penthouse in a luxury high-rise condo tower in the city’s downtown area. The penthouse was allegedly used to embezzle millions of dollars by a minister of parliament in the Republic of Congo.
According to the civil forfeiture complaint, Denis-Christel Sassou Nguesso transferred millions of dollars through an unknown associate to bank accounts in South Florida in order to buy a 3,500-square-foot penthouse at 900 Biscayne Boulevard in 2012.
Prosecutors allege Nguesso stole the funds from Société Nationale des Pétroles du Congo (SNPC), a state-owned oil company where he held the position of deputy manager of downstream operations. The lawsuit claims he used his post to steal millions from the company and solicit bribes to enrich himself. He allegedly funneled the money to bank accounts in the names of various shell companies in order to hide his role in purchasing real estate in Miami.
Between 2009 and 2016, Nguesso allegedly transferred an estimated $10.3 million to bank accounts in South Florida. He used that money to purchase the so-called “Congo condo” in October 2012 for $2.8 million using the alias Denis Christelle. He reportedly transferred the title of the unit to his wife, Nathalie Bumba-Pembe, in 2016 to conceal his ownership. Neither Nguesso nor his wife have been charged with a crime; the complaint only names the property as the defendant. It is not yet known whether additional charges are forthcoming.
Sources indicate that Nguesso also used embezzled funds to purchase another residential property in Coral Gables in 2009 for $2.4 million under the name of his first wife, Danielle Ognanosso. It is unclear why prosecutors are not trying to seize the 4,200-square-foot home at 2715 Cordova Street.
Nguesso acquired wealth far beyond his income as an SNPC executive, prosecutors claim. During a visit to Miami in January 2016, he allegedly told customs officials that he earned $460,000 a year as a deputy manager with SNPC, and that he owned no real estate in the U.S. However, from 2007 to 2017, records show that Nguesso spent $29 million acquiring properties in Miami and Paris and paying for a “lavish lifestyle” for himself and his family.
Money laundering allegations in South Florida’s luxury real estate market by foreign buyers are not uncommon. Nguesso’s acquisitions occurred years before the Treasury Department started requiring title insurance companies to identify the people behind shell companies in all-cash real estate transactions in Miami and 11 other U.S. cities to stem the flow of tainted foreign money derived from embezzlement, corruption, and bribery.
Civil asset forfeiture is a tool used by prosecutors and law enforcement to seize property—real estate, cash, vehicles, electronics—believed to be connected to a crime, even if the property owner hasn’t been charged or convicted. Anyone who has had their property seized using asset forfeiture should immediately consult an experienced attorney.
Miami Civil Asset Forfeiture Attorney