In a press briefing on 15 March 2013, the US State Department expressed its disappointment over the pardon granted to former Bayelsa state governor, DSP Alamieyeseigha by Nigeria’s President[1]. On the same date the Associated Press also reported the brewing diplomatic spat between the US and Nigeria over the pardon[2]. The admission by the State Department that the US has been playing a strong role in “supporting rule of law and legal institution building in Nigeria” is most welcome. I am not aware that any other country has seen fit to comment on the pardon and as such the US should be commended for playing its part as a world leader. In recognition of the international status of the US it is worthwhile to review the role that the US has played in “supporting rule of law and legal institution building in Nigeria”.

By way of a prologue, in February 2010, a US Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report, "Keeping Foreign Corruption Out of the United States: Four Case Histories," revealed how Atiku Abubakar (the former Vice President of Nigeria), his relatives and close associates used the services of US professionals and US financial institutions “to bring over $40 million in suspect funds into the United States”. The Subcommittee contacted Abubakar and his US wife Jennifer, but both declined to be interviewed.  The Subcommittee’s report revealed that Jennifer was responsible for bringing in nearly $25 million in suspect funds into the US. However, the 2010 report did not state what action if any the US should take against the violation of US anti-corruption laws by Abubakar, his wife and associates.

In January 2011, the US Congress followed up on its 2010 report and referred the information to the Attorney General of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”). In the referral letter, the US Congress advised that “there is a risk that our [US] ability to promote the rule of law abroad may be compromised if we cannot remedy alleged violations of our anti-corruption laws by powerful foreigners."[3] Other commentators like Bruce Fein of the Huffington Post, have also recognised that if the US allows powerful foreigners to subvert the rule of law in the US, this could severely compromise the rule of law abroad, especially in places like Nigeria.[4] Consequently Mr. Fein argued that there is a need for the DOJ to act aggressively to bring powerful foreigners to account for violating United States anti-corruption laws.

It is therefore instructive to note that when the Tribune, the Nigerian newspaper that broke the story of the Congressional letter raised the prospect of a DOJ prosecution with an Abubakar spokesperson, the spokesperson  reportedly dismissed the threat with a “wave of the hand”. A May 2009 email to the Swiss Federal Office of Justice titled, “Request for Assistance in the Matter of Jennifer Douglas Abubakar”, revealed that prior to the referral by the US Congress, the DOJ had commenced an investigation into the role played by Jennifer in connection with bribes paid by Siemens to her husband. However, some four years on from the date of the email and some five years after Siemens pleaded guilty to routing “approximately $2.8 million of the bribe payments” through Jennifer as established in the Subcommittee report, there is no publicly available information on the status of the DOJ’s investigation into Jennifer and her husband.

In another example of powerful foreigners violating US anti-corruption laws, in March 2011, the US DOJ filed a complaint for forfeiture against a property that Alamieyeseigha owns in the US state of Maryland [5]. However, as reported by Sahara Reporters, Alamieyeseigha is allegedly acting in concert with a Nigerian senator to protect this property from forfeiture proceedings, by attempting to mislead the court and frustrate the DOJ’s claim[6]. According to Sahara Reporters, “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.”

Sahara Reporters has reported that the US court has already dismissed the claim by Senator Uzamere on the grounds that the Senator “lacked standing to contest the forfeiture.” The US court is yet to rule on Alamieyeseigha’s claim. However, it should be noted that the United States Code prohibits perjury and Alamieyeseigha and his co-conspirators would indeed be guilty of perjury if the statements and claims made in defence of the DOJ forfeiture claim are found to be false and misleading. It is therefore reasonable to expect that in keeping with informed opinion in the US the DOJ will act aggressively to bring the former governor and his accomplice in the Nigerian senate to account for allegedly violating United States anti-corruption laws.

In the March 2013 US State Department press briefing on the subject of the Alamieyeseigha pardon referred to earlier, the question was asked “Is there anything more than just deep disappointment that you’re expressing about this? I recall there are sanctions available to use on corruption-related issues. Have they – have you warned the Nigerians that aid or – aid might be risked – at risk or that sanctions might be possible against individuals?” The State Department spokeswoman, Ms Nuland replied that “We have made clear to the Nigerians that this puts a question mark on the kinds of work that we’ve been trying to do with them. We haven’t yet taken the kinds of steps that you’re suggesting, Matt, but we’re continuing to look at what’s appropriate.” The tone of the question would appear to suggest that the US needs to do more than express disappointment and the State Department’s response would appear to recognize this. We now wait to see what the US will consider an “appropriate response” in keeping with the strong role that the US is playing in “supporting rule of law and legal institution building in Nigeria”.

In conclusion there is strong evidence to suggest that the US needs to increase its efforts to keep out foreign corruption while supporting the rule of law and legal institution building in places like Nigeria. To achieve these commendable objectives it is imperative that the threat of prosecution in the US and the sanctions that would be applicable in the event that wrongdoing is established are of sufficient credibility and gravity to act as effective deterrents. The cases outlined above worryingly suggest that in some instances powerful foreigners who have been found by the US to have violated US anti-corruption laws are not suitably chastened or deterred from committing further violations of US anti-corruption laws by the sanctions meted out to them by the US for their previous indiscretions.  The pardon granted to Alamieyeseigha by the Nigerian government would appear to suggest that the role that the US has played in supporting the rule of law and legal institution building in Nigeria has not been as strong or as effective as the US had previously thought.

[1] “Daily Press Briefing”, 15 March 2013, The US State Department available at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2013/03/206324.htm  

[2] “Nigeria Summons US Official Over Tweets on Pardon”, 15 March 2013, Associated Press available at http://bigstory.ap.org/article/us-criticizes-nigerias-pardon-corrupt-official

[3] “Money Laundering: US moves to prosecute Atiku”, 13 January 2011, The Tribune available at http://tribune.com.ng/index.php/news/16081-money-laundering-us-moves-to-prosecute-atiku  

“Atiku Abubakar”, 14 January 2011, Mayfirst online blog available at https://lists.mayfirst.org/pipermail/friends/2011-January/008766.html

[4] “Nigeria: Crucifying Democracy on a Cross of Corruption”, 3 January 2011, Huff Post available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-fein/nigeria-crucifying-democr_b_803110.html

[5] “Diepreye Alamieyeseigha”, Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative statement available at http://star.worldbank.org/corruption-cases/node/18494

[6] “Two Nigerian Senators Tried To Protect Alamieyeseigha’s Property in the US”, 17 March 2013, Sahara Reporters, available at http://saharareporters.com/news-page/two-nigerian-senators-tried-protect-alamieyeseigha%E2%80%99s-property-us

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

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