Scandal used to undermine Atiku

Scandal used to undermine Atiku

Postby Richard Akindele » Fri Jul 21, 2006 3:00 pm

Lagos, Nigeria - A bribery scandal in the United States is being used to try to undermine Vice President Atiku Abubakar, a spokesperson for the politician charged on Thursday.

"The rumour industry in this country is fed by the federal government - they want the FBI issue sustained in public, that he is under investigation, which he is not, or that he could be liable to United States laws," said Garba Shehu, a spokesperson for Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

Abubakar had a public falling out with Obasanjo last year. Osita Nwajah, a spokesperson for the government's anti-corruption watchdog, often accused of harassing President Olusegun Obasanjo's rivals, declined comment on the allegations or on whether his organisation was investigating Abubakar in connection with the US scandal.

US Representative William Jefferson is suspected of receiving $100 000 (about R700 000) last July to be used to bribe Abubakar to ensure the success of a business deal in Nigeria, according to US investigators' documents. The money was never passed to Abubakar and both he and Jefferson deny any wrongdoing.

For more than a year, US investigators have been looking into whether the congressman promoted the sale of telecommunications equipment and services to Nigeria and other African countries in exchange for stock and cash.

Abubakar is running for president in next year's election. Obasanjo is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term and has not anointed a successor. His supporters tried and failed earlier this year to change the constitution to allow him to run again.

Obasanjo has targeted corruption since winning office in 1999. He has been credited with some success, in part because of the establishment of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission three years ago. However, critics often charge argue that the watchdog commission is used to target perceived enemies of the president.

Shehu, the vice president's spokesperson, claimed that a supporter in government had seen FBI records allegedly requested by the federal government, and that they proved the vice president was innocent of any wrongdoing in the Jefferson affair.

Bill Carter, a spokesperson for the FBI, said he could not comment on whether the Nigerian government had requested any information in the case.

The Nigerian government has asked for outside help in the past in its war on corruption. The United Kingdom has twice arrested state governors accused of corruption at the request of the Nigerian government.

International intervention was necessary because sitting governors have immunity from prosecution in Nigeria, a privilege that extends to both the president and vice president.

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Nigerian entangled in Jefferson investigation

Postby Richard Akindele » Sun Jul 23, 2006 2:35 pm

WASHINGTON — The corruption investigation of Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., has taken many strange twists: an FBI sting that caught the lawmaker on videotape accepting a large payoff; a subsequent raid that turned up $90,000 of that cash in his apartment freezer and a weekend FBI search of his congressional office that triggered a constitutional uproar.

But one of the most puzzling and intriguing facets of the case is Jefferson's ties to Atiku Abubakar, the vice president of Nigeria. Abubakar, a wealthy businessman and one of the leading candidates in next year's race for president of Nigeria, divides his time between his homeland and Potomac, Md., where he and one of his four wives maintain a $2.2 million mansion.

Jefferson, who was a member of a House Ways and Means trade subcommittee, got to know Abubakar after the Nigerian was elected vice president in 1999.

Later, Jefferson turned to Abubakar for help in winning a lucrative Nigerian telecommunications contract for a high-tech firm in Kentucky that was paying Jefferson bribes, according to an FBI affidavit. Jefferson told a business associate in a secretly taped conversation that Abubakar was "corrupt" and needed a hefty bribe and a cut of the profits in return for his help, claims Abubakar has denied.

Abubakar's involvement in the case has generated intense political controversy and media attention in Nigeria, which is trying to shed its long-standing reputation for corrupt government.

"I don't think it will be simply excused or trivialized," said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Africa program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "I think his opponents will use it, certainly. Nigerian politics is hardball."

Bribery allegations

After a six-month sting, FBI agents raided Abubakar's Potomac home on Aug. 3 and searched for evidence relating to Jefferson, who was alleged to have bribed a foreign official.

Federal authorities alleged in court filings that Jefferson took hundreds of thousands in illegal payments in exchange for using his congressional position to promote high-tech business ventures in Africa.

Neither Jefferson nor Abubakar has been charged in the case, although two others have pleaded guilty to providing bribes to Jefferson.

On Wednesday, Abubakar, 59, issued a statement through his Washington lawyer denying wrongdoing and insisting Jefferson had never "suggested — in any way — providing any personal economic benefits" to him.

"I have no relationship with Mr. Jefferson, personal or private, other than the usual diplomatic courtesies extended to a high-ranking U.S. official who states that he is interested in promoting trade, investment and the transfer of technology to Nigeria," Abubakar said.

The vice president's allies, public-relations advisers and lawyer in the United States said Jefferson made up Abubakar's demands and used the Nigerian's good name to swindle people. The discovery of the cash in Jefferson's freezer, they said, was particularly telling.

"It's absolutely the clearest evidence of [Abubakar's] innocence," Adinoyi Ojo Onukaba, a former press secretary and current media adviser to Abubakar, said in a telephone interview.

The congressman "was just dropping his name to commit fraud ... to extort money from people. The vice president asked for nothing."

Onukaba said Friday that the FBI has asked the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to help in the Jefferson investigation by interviewing three governors of Nigerian states and other officials who had contact with the Louisiana Democrat.

In 1999, Olusegun Obasanjo was elected president of Nigeria, and Abubakar was elected vice president, ushering in what was touted as a new era of democracy after the brutal military dictatorship of Sani Abacha. Abubakar had spent several years in exile living in suburban Maryland during the Abacha government.

Abubakar, a multimillionaire, owns several large businesses, a $3 million home in Nigeria's capital and a $5 million home in northern Nigeria in addition to his seven-bedroom, embassy-style gated mansion and gardens in Potomac. Moreover, he put up more than $25 million to start ABTI-American University of Nigeria in his hometown of Yola through American University, according to the university in Yola.

Abubakar's wife Jennifer Atiku-Abubakar, a former Nigerian television reporter who also goes by the name Jamila, is a doctoral student at American University and operates the Gede Foundation, a charity for people in Africa who have HIV.

The year Abubakar took office as vice president, Jefferson visited Nigeria as part of a congressional fact-finding trip, according to travel records. Jefferson returned three more times, including a trip in 2004 sponsored by iGate, a Louisville high-tech company looking to break into Nigeria's cable-television and Internet markets. The owner of iGate, Vernon Jackson, later pleaded guilty to paying bribes to Jefferson in connection with the Nigerian contract.

Abubakar said Wednesday that he met with Jefferson at least four times, twice in Nigeria and twice in the United States, "in connection with Congressman Jefferson's attempt to introduce potential investors in Nigeria to Nigerian officials."

FBI gets involved

Their last meeting, on July 18, 2005, became the subject of a key FBI affidavit in the Jefferson case.

On that Monday, a chauffeur drove Jefferson and his Northern Virginia business partner, Lori Mody, to Abubakar's 2.3-acre Potomac mansion.

Unknown to Jefferson, Mody was wearing an FBI wire, and the chauffeur was an undercover FBI agent.

Jefferson met privately with Abubakar, without Mody, to discuss iGate's involvement with a Nigerian partner in a high-tech venture to market Internet and cable television in Nigeria, according to the FBI affidavit.

Mody had invested $3.5 million, and Jefferson had a secret share of her business and of iGate.

After the meeting, Jefferson told Mody the vice president demanded a cut of the profits. He said they needed to give him $500,000 "as a motivating factor," the affidavit said.

On July 30, Mody gave Jefferson $100,000 to pass on to Abubakar, and shortly after, Jefferson assured her it had been delivered.

In an Aug. 3 search of Jefferson's Capitol Hill apartment, FBI agents found $90,000 of the marked FBI bills in his freezer. None of the cash had gone to Abubakar, according to the FBI affidavit.
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