- Â FG in talks with American prosecutors on repatriation of funds
Tobi Soniyi with agency report
A former U.S. State Department specialist, Mathew Page, has suggested that the U.S. civil forfeiture case to seize $144 million of assets from two cronies of the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, might just be the start of her legal troubles with America.
The U.S. Justice Department last week filed an asset recovery case in Houston against Jide Omokore and Kola Aluko, both directors of Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept (AEDC) and Atlantic Energy Brass Development Ltd (AEBD), seeking the seizure of luxury property, including a New York apartment and super-yacht, bought by Aluko.
The two businessmen, to the detriment of Nigerian treasury, were heavily favoured by Alison-Madueke during her tenure as Nigeriaâ€™s oil minister, leading to the approval of a Strategic Alliance Agreement (SAA) between AEDC/AEBD and the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company (NPDC), the exploration and production subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to fund some oil blocks held by NPDC.
The deal saw AEDC/AEBD lifting crude oil under a sharing arrangement with NPDC, which Omokore and Aluko allegedly diverted to the tune of $1.7 billion.
â€œAlthough this is the first attempt by U.S. law enforcement to go after assets allegedly stolen by Diezani and her henchmen, it almost certainly will not be the last,â€ the AFP reported Page as saying.
At present, Alison-Madueke faces charges only at home but her name has cropped up in a growing number of international cases that lift the lid on the scale of alleged corruption in the countryâ€™s oil sector.
Since leaving office in 2015, she has been implicated in bribery, fraud, misuse of public funds, and money laundering cases in Nigeria, Britain, Italy and the United States.
The first female president of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has always denied the allegations involving billions of dollars syphoned from oil deals and state coffers.
President Muhammadu Buhari, elected in 2015 on a promise to eliminate graft, has said that â€œmind-bogglingâ€ sums of public money were stolen by previous administrations.
Officials in Abuja confirmed that they were talking with U.S. prosecutors about repatriating the money if the civil forfeiture claim is successful.
Alison-Madueke served under former President Goodluck Jonathan from 2010 to 2015 and was Nigeriaâ€™s first female Minister of Petroleum Resources. But her tenure was dogged by scandal.
On her watch, the former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi was sacked for claiming the state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had failed to remit $20 billion.
In one case heard in Nigeria in February, Alison-Madueke was accused of diverting N23 billion of NNPC money to influence the 2015 presidential election to keep Jonathan in power.
Last week, prosecutors in Lagos began proceedings to recover $1.76 billion of assets owned by Aluko and Omokore.
On Wednesday, another judge ordered the forfeiture of Alison-Maduekeâ€™s $37.5 million luxury Lagos property, saying it was purchased with ill-gotten funds.
Meanwhile, Italian prosecutors allege that she and Jonathan received kickbacks from ENI and Shell as part of a $1.3-billion deal for the acquisition of Oil Mining Lease (OML) 249 from Malabu Oil and Gas Limited by the two oil majors.
Charges relating to the same oil block deal have also been filed against ENI and Shell and some senior Nigerian politicians.
Jonathan and Alison-Madueke were not named in the suit but the former president is under pressure from parliament to answer questions about the so-called Malabu deal.
Alison-Madueke was arrested in London in October 2015 in connection with a British probe into international corruption and money laundering, but she was freed on bail.
As the international cases pile up, anti-graft campaigners hope the growing body of evidence will boost current Buhariâ€™s faltering war on corruption.
Several high-profile figures in Jonathanâ€™s government have been charged with corruption since Buhari came to power, however so far there have been no major convictions.
Still, some activists believe the overseas cases will serve as a powerful example of justice.
Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders lobby group said the latest cases involving Alison-Madueke, Aluko and Omokore could be a â€œmorale boosterâ€.
â€œOnce a conviction is got abroad, the right signal will be sent to all looters that the judgment day has come,â€ he said.
â€œThe fight against corruption will receive a boost. At last, the chickens are coming home to roost.â€
Dolapo Oni, an oil analyst with Ecobank, said in contrast to Nigeriaâ€™s sluggish courts, the overseas corruption cases might be concluded faster.
But whatever positive impact that may have, fears remain that with Buhari on indefinite medical leave, his anti-corruption war is losing momentum.
Leading Nigerian lawyer Festus Keyamo said the cases demonstrated the need to fundamentally overhaul the NNPC â€” and to investigate just how far up corruption went among the ruling elite.
â€œThe big unanswered questions: is it possible one minister allegedly stole so much without the knowledge, connivance and approval of the C-in-C (commander-in-chief)?â€ he tweeted.