Nige­ria's for­mer oil min­is­ter bat­tles slew of graft cases

Lid off scale of cor­rup­tion in coun­try’s oil sec­tor

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

LAGOS: Nige­ria’s for­mer oil min­is­ter faces charges only at home but her name crops up in a grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tional cases that lift the lid on the scale of al­leged cor­rup­tion in the coun­try’s oil sec­tor. Since leav­ing of­fice in 2015, Diezani Ali­son-Madueke 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 global oil cartel OPEC — who was one of Africa’s most prom­i­nent politi­cians has al­ways de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, which in­volve bil­lions of dol­lars sy­phoned from oil deals and state cof­fers.

But for­mer US State Depart­ment Nige­ria spe­cial­ist Matthew Page sug­gested that a US civil for­fei­ture case to seize $144 mil­lion (124 mil­lion eu­ros) of as­sets from al­legedly ill-got­ten crude con­tracts may just be the start of Ali­son Madueke’s le­gal trou­bles.

“Al­though this is the first at­tempt by US law en­force­ment to go af­ter as­sets al­legedly stolen by Diezani and her hench­men, it al­most cer­tainly will not be the last,” he told AFP. Nige­ria’s Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, elected in 2015 on a prom­ise to elim­i­nate graft, has said that “mind-bog­gling” sums of pub­lic money were stolen by pre­vi­ous administrations. Of­fi­cials in Abuja say they are talk­ing with US pros­e­cu­tors about repa­tri­at­ing the money if the civil for­fei­ture claim is suc­cess­ful.

String of cases

Ali­son-Madueke served un­der pres­i­dent Good­luck Jonathan from 2010 to 2015 and was Nige­ria’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 some $153 mil­lion from the NNPC cof­fers.

In an­other on­go­ing trial, some 23 bil­lion naira ($73 mil­lion) of NNPC money is al­leged to have been used to in­flu­ence the 2015 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to keep Jonathan in power.

Pros­e­cu­tors in Lagos this week be­gan pro­ceed­ings to re­cover $1.76 bil­lion of as­sets owned by Kola Aluko and Jide Omokore, whose com­pa­nies were awarded oil con­tracts by Ali­son Madueke.

A sim­i­lar as­set re­cov­ery case was filed last week in Hous­ton, Texas, seek­ing the seizure of lux­ury prop­erty, in­clud­ing a New York apart­ment and su­pery­acht, bought by the busi­ness­men. On Wed­nes­day, an­other judge or­dered the for­fei­ture of Ali­son-Madueke’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 oil ma­jors ENI and Shell as part of a $1.3-bil­lion deal for an off­shore oil block in Nige­ria. Charges re­lat­ing to the same oil block deal have also been filed against the oil ma­jors and some se­nior Nige­rian politi­cians. Jonathan and Ali­son-Madueke are not named in the suit but the for­mer pres­i­dent is un­der pres­sure from par­lia­ment to an­swer ques­tions about the so-called Mal­abu deal. Fi­nally, Diezani-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.

‘Morale booster’

As the in­ter­na­tional cases pile up, anti-graft cam­paign­ers hope the grow­ing body of ev­i­dence will boost cur­rent Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s fal­ter­ing war on cor­rup­tion. Sev­eral high-pro­file fig­ures in Jonathan’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 “morale booster”.

“Once a con­vic­tion is got abroad, the right sig­nal will be sent to all loot­ers that the judg­ment day has come,” he said. “The fight against cor­rup­tion will re­ceive a boost. At last, the chick­ens are com­ing home to roost.”

Do­lapo Oni, an oil an­a­lyst with Ecobank, said that in con­trast to Nige­ria’s slug­gish courts, the over­seas cor­rup­tion cases may 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 fun­da­men­tally to over­haul the NNPC-and to in­ves­ti­gate just how far up cor­rup­tion went in the rul­ing elite. “The big unan­swered ques­tions: is it pos­si­ble one Min­is­ter al­legedly stole so much with­out the knowl­edge, con­nivance & ap­proval of the C-in-C (com­man­der-in-chief)?”, he tweeted. — AFP

This file photo taken on April 20, 2017 shows a view of an il­le­gal oil re­fin­ery de­stroyed by mem­bers of the NNS Pathfinder of the Nige­rian Navy forces in the Niger Delta re­gion near the city of Port Har­court. — AFP

Diezani Ali­son-Madueke

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