As the controversy rages over the state pardon granted to former Governor Diepreye Solomon Peters Alamieyeseigha, SaharaReporters has learned from US court records that two sitting Nigerian senators are implicated in legal efforts to safeguard the former governor’s property in the US from forfeiture proceedings.
The US Federal Court for the District of Maryland rejected a claim filed by Senator Ehigie Uzamere (PDP, Edo South) to avert the forfeiture of a real estate property located in the state of Maryland and allegedly bought with “proceeds of illegal activities” by Solomon & Peters Limited, a company whose ownership had been traced to Alamieyeseigha
The property is located at 504 Pleasant Drive, King Farm Estate, Rockville; Montgomery County, an upscale part of Maryland. The property was subjected to forfeiture through civil proceedings initiated by US Justice Department’s initiative against kleptocratic practices. On March 17, 2011, the US government, acting as a plaintiff, filed a complaint for forfeiture against the property naming Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s front company, Solomon & Peter Limited, as the owner.
But in a counter claim, Mr. Uzamere sought to claim ownership of the property. In court papers obtained by SaharaReporters, he described himself as a “distinguished Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria” and “a Knight of the Anglican Church Communion.” Represented by Chidi Onukwugha, a Nigerian-born attorney of Onukwugha & Onwezi, LLC, Baltimore, Maryland, Senator Uzamere filed a motion claiming that the property actually belonged to him.
In his motion, Mr. Uzamere stated that he lent some money to the former governor of Bayelsa State to purchase the property. He added that the loan was in default, and argued that the property therefore should duly revert to him.
The forfeiture case was titled United State of America v. Real Property Titled in the name of Solomon & Peter Ltd, Case No.: 11-cv-00662 and was filed on March 17, 2011. The case file revealed that the property was allegedly acquired with funds acquired from money laundering. It also stated that the former governor was involved in a conspiracy to conceal or disguise the proceeds of bribery, misappropriation, theft, and embezzlement committed against Nigeria.
More specifically, the US government alleged that Mr. Alamieyeseigha used Domingo Alaba Obende, also a Nigerian senator representing Edo North on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), to acquire the property. The property was later transferred to Solomon & Peters, a shell corporation controlled by Mr. Alamieyeseigha. The former governor had formerly entered a guilty plea to charges of money laundering in Nigeria on behalf of the corporation.
But facing forfeiture of the house in the US, Mr. Alamieyeseigha and the senator filed counter claims in a dramatic move to retain the property.
On July 1, 2012, the court ruled that Senator Uzamere lacked standing to contest the forfeiture. The court reasoned that the senator failed to file the claim within the required 35 days of service, which was served on him in Nigeria on November 17, 2011. Mr. Uzamere had filed his claim on January 21, 2012 instead of December 22, 2011.
Although the court is yet to rule on Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s claim, there are already indications that the claim is likely to fail as well. According to the US, Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s statements in the claim are inconsistent with records of his prosecution in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. In those records, the former governor of Bayelsa denied the ownership of any property in the US. He also did not declare the property in his assets declarations.
Mr. Alamieyeseigha is not claiming to own the property. Instead, he is contending that the property belongs to Senator Uzamere who had loaned him the money to purchase it. “We’re confident that we can persuade the judge that this is all part of a conspiracy by a convicted governor to save a property he illegally acquired,” a Justice Department attorney told SaharaReporters.
The forfeiture proceedings have been put on a mutual stay to allow the court to rule on Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s claim.
A Nigerian lawyer resident in the US said it was unclear if the pardon granted to Mr. Alamieyeseigha last week would affect the course of the court proceedings. “Perhaps that was why the US government issued a strong condemnation of the pardon granted to the former governor,” she said. But our source at the US Department of Justice told SaharaReporters that the Jonathan administration’s decision to pardon Mr. Alamieyeseigha would have no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the case. “It’s immaterial that the Nigerian government has pardoned a man who used the proceeds of money laundering to purchase real estate property within our jurisdiction,” said the attorney.