Alison-Madueke to Kola Aluko: “If you want to hire a yacht, you lease it for two weeks or whatever… You don’t go and sink funds into it at this time when Nigerian oil and gas sector is under all kinds of watch.” – Intercepted recording of an apparent phone conversation between former oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and oil trader, Kola Aluko
Demola Ojo with agency reports
US prosecutors on Friday moved to seize $144m in assets including a 200-foot yacht and a Manhattan condominium one block from Central Park, calling them the fruits of an international bribery scheme that involved the former Nigerian Oil Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The justice department action targeted Nigeria’s oil man, Mr Kola Aluko’s vessel, Galactica Star, which its builder bills as the “world’s largest fast displacement yacht”, along with condominium units in Manhattan and real estate in Southern California located just three miles from the Pacific Ocean.
From 2011 to 2015, two Nigerian oil men, Kolawole Aluko and Olajide Omokore, alledgedly conspired with others to bribe the country’s minister for petroleum resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, in order to win oil production contracts worth $1.5bn, according to a civil forfeiture complaint. At the time, along with controlling the country’s state-owned oil company, Mrs. Alison-Madueke, also headed the Vienna-based oil cartel, OPEC. Nigeria’s federal high court earlier this year charged her with money laundering and she has previously denied any wrongdoing. After awarding government contracts to shell companies owned by the two men, Mrs. Alison-Madueke — known as “the madam” or “Madam D” — was rewarded with a “lavish lifestyle”, according to the US Department of Justice.
Alison-Madueke has since denied any wrong-doing in her relationship with Kola Aluko and Jide Omokore.
A civil forfeiture complaint is merely an allegation that money or property was involved in or represents the proceeds of a crime. These allegations are not proven until a court awards judgment in favour of the US.
“The United States is not a safe haven for the proceeds of corruption,” said acting assistant attorney-general Kenneth Blanco. “If illicit funds are within the reach of the United States, we will seek to forfeit them and to return them to the victims from whom they were stolen.”
Though known as “a small time trader” who had previously earned around $500,000 annually, in less than three years, Mr. Aluko purchased more than $87m of US property and the $82m yacht, according to the complaint, filed in US district court in Houston. According to the complaint, in a conversation with Mr Aluko that prosecutors say Mrs. Alison-Madueke recorded, she criticised him for his lavish spending. “If you want to hire a yacht, you lease it for two weeks or whatever,” she said. “You don’t go and sink funds into it at this time when Nigerian oil and gas sector is under all kinds of watch.”
The two businessmen allegedly purchased millions of dollars worth of property in and near London for the oil minister and her family and then furnished the homes with furniture, artwork and other luxury items from Houston-area stores that she fancied. In January 2011, the Nigerian businessmen and unidentified co-conspirators bought a Buckinghamshire home known as “The Falls” for £3.25m. Two months later, as Mr Aluko was meeting with Nigerian oil officials to discuss a contract, he arranged to buy two properties near London’s Regent’s Parks: a £1.7m home at 39 Chester Close and 58 Harley House on the Marylebone Road for £2.8m. The first property, upgraded with an elevator and new stone flooring and countertops, was intended for the use of Ms Alison-Madueke’s mother and her son, according to the complaint. The men that month also purchased a £3.7m flat at 83-86 Prince Albert Road for the oil minister. Ms Alison-Madueke appears to have favoured furniture stores in the Houston area, which she patronised on periodic visits to the US oil industry capital. On a single day in May 2012, Mr Aluko wired $461,500 from a Swiss bank account to one furniture store and spent an additional $262,091 at a second on the oil minister’s behalf, the complaint says.
The case was brought as part of DoJ’s kleptocracy asset recovery initiative. Mr Aluko and Mr Omokore created two shell companies in the British Virgin Islands — Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Nigeria and Atlantic Energy Brass Development — to handle their oil contracts. Though the companies, which prosecutors say were “unqualified”, failed to fulfil the terms of their deals, they were allowed to produce and sell more than $1.5bn worth of Nigerian crude oil. The pair then created additional shell companies to launder the proceeds through the US, prosecutors said. Mr Aluko’s last known address was in Porza-Lugano, Switzerland, while Mr Omokore is described as a resident of Lagos.
According to the Justice Department, the complaint announced Friday demonstrates the Department’s commitment to working with our law enforcement partners around the globe to trace and recover the proceeds of corruption, no matter the source.”
“Business executives who engage in bribery and illegal pay-offs in order to obtain contracts create an uneven marketplace where honest competitor companies are put at a disadvantage,” said Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, Andrew W. Vale. “Along with the Department of Justice, international law enforcement partners and other US federal agencies, the FBI is committed to pursuing all those who attempt to advance their businesses through corrupt practices.”
The US government also stated that Aluko, Omokore and others funded a lavish lifestyle for Alison-Madueke. According to the allegations, they purchase millions of dollars in real estate in and around London for Alison-Madueke and her family members, then renovated and furnished these homes with millions of dollars in furniture, artwork and other luxury items purchased at two Houston-area furniture stores.
In return, the US government said Alison-Madueke used her influence to direct a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to award Strategic Alliance Agreements (SAAs) to two shell companies created by Aluko and Omokore: Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Nigeria Ltd. and Atlantic Energy Brass Development Ltd. (the Atlantic Companies).
Under the SAAs, the Atlantic Companies were required to finance the exploration and production operations of eight on-shore oil and gas blocks. In return for financing these operations, the companies expected to receive a portion of the oil and gas produced.
However, according to the complaint, the Atlantic Companies provided only a fraction of the agreed upon financing or, in some instances, failed entirely to provide it. The companies also failed to meet other obligations under the SAAs, including the payment of $120 million entry fee. Nevertheless, according to the allegations, the companies were permitted to lift and sell more than $1.5 billion worth of Nigerian crude oil.
The government contends the Atlantic Companies then used a series of shell companies and intermediaries to launder a portion of the total proceeds of these arrangements into and through the US.
“Today’s announcement would not have been possible without the remarkable work conducted by a group of dedicated investigators, attorneys and international partners who were committed to leaving no stone unturned in this case targeting international corruption,” said Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division, Stephen E. Richardson.
“This case demonstrates that the FBI will not tolerate American institutions and property being used to launder proceeds of foreign corruption and today’s filing is an important step towards recovering identified funds. This should serve as a warning to other corrupt foreign officials that the United States is not open for their business.”