- Category: Politics
- Published on Tuesday, 11 January 2011 07:41
- Written by National Daily
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ONE of the Presidential hopefuls on the platform of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the coming Presidential Primary of the party slated for January 13 in Abuja, former Vice President Alhaji Abubakar Atiku has been found to be an offender in the United States of America (US), and the information seems to have emanated at about the wrong time in what is now becoming a hotly pursuit Presidential Primary race between the ex-customs boss and the serving President, Dr, Goodluck Jonathan.
The case of Alhaji Abubakar Atiku was among four other case studies cited under, 'Foreign Corruption and Money Laundering'. His portion gulped a total of 69 pages and is entitled, 'Abubakar Case Study: Using Offshore Companies to Bring Suspect Funds into the United States'. The trust of the indictment is that the popular politician fondly referred to as 'Turaki' funnelled approximately $40million to the US through his wife, Jennifer.
The finding revealed that Jennifer Douglas Abubakar, a U.S. citizen, is the fourth wife of Atiku Abubakar. The Committee examined how, from 2000 to 2008, Ms. Douglas helped her husband bring over $40 million in suspect funds into the United States, including at least $1.7 million in bribe payments from Siemens AG, a German corporation, and over $38 million from little known offshore corporations, primarily LetsGo Limited Inc., Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Limited, and Sima Holding Limited.
The report showed that over half of the suspect funds, nearly $25 million, were wire transferred by the offshore corporations into U.S. bank accounts opened by Ms. Douglas. For most of the time period examined, the U.S. banks with those accounts were unaware of Ms. Douglas' PEP status, and allowed multiple large wire transfers into her accounts from the offshore corporations. As, over time, each of the banks began to question the wire transfers into her accounts, Ms. Douglas indicated that all of the funds came from her husband and professed little familiarity with the offshore corporations actually sending her money.
Bank records indicated that Ms. Douglas used most of the funds placed into her accounts to support a lavish lifestyle in the United States, paying credit card bills and household expenses in the range of $10,000 to $90,000 per month, including substantial legal and accounting bills. She also transferred funds to accounts she opened for the Gede Foundation, a nonprofit corporation she established in 2002, and the American University of Nigeria (AUN), a university that Abubakar founded in 2003, and whose name reflects its association with American University in the United States.
An additional $14 million of the suspect funds were wire transferred by two of the offshore corporations, LetsGo and the Guernsey Trust Company, to American University to pay for consulting fees related to AUN. American University officials told the Subcommittee that they understood the funds came from Abubakar and never inquired why the wire transfers were sent by unfamiliar offshore corporations. At least another $2.1 million was wire transferred by the Guernsey Trust Corporation to accounts controlled by Edward Weidenfeld, a U.S. lawyer who provided legal services to Ms. Douglas, Abubakar, and AUN. Mr. Weidenfeld explained that the funds paid for the Abubakars' legal expenses and an account set up for AUN, and that he had assumed the funds came from Abubakar.
The report noted that over the years, questions have been raised about the source of Abubakar's wealth. He spent twenty years in the Nigerian Customs Service, and then worked in the private sector for ten years, before serving as Vice President of Nigeria from 1999 to 2007.
The report noted that while serving as Vice President, Abubakar was the subject of corruption allegations relating to the Nigerian Petroleum Technology Development Fund. In December 2008, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in a formal complaint against Siemens AG, a German company, that, among other actions, in 2001 and 2002, Siemens wire transferred $2.8 million in bribe payments to a U.S bank account belonging to Ms. Douglas as part of a scheme to bribe Nigerian officials. In response to this and other legal actions, Siemens admitted to engaging in widespread bribery payments, pled guilty to criminal violations and settled civil violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and agreed to pay over $1.6 billion in civil and criminal fines. Ms. Douglas has denied any wrongdoing, but the Subcommittee has obtained financial records showing the transfer of over $2 million from Siemens AG to Ms. Douglas' account at Citibank.
Defending himself, Abubakar attributed his substantial wealth to fortunate investments. His wealth is attributable in part to a 16 per cent ownership interest he held in Integrated Logistics Services Inc. ("Intels"), an oil services company formed in the 1980s, which has now become one of the largest Nigerian companies in the oil industry in Africa. When Abubakar took office in 1999, he placed his Intels shares in a blind trust. Instead of selecting an independent trustee from a financial firm, however, Abubakar appointed as trustee of the blind trust Orleans Invest Holding Limited, a Panamanian corporation that is active in the oil industry in Africa, is closely associated with Intels, and is owned in part by Gabriele Volpi, Abubakar's trusted friend and business partner. Orlean served as trustee of the Abubakar Blind Trust from 1999 to 2003, when the trustees exchanged the Intels shares for shares in Orlean, thereby making the trust part owner of its own trustee. Orlean then resigned from the Abubakar Blind Trust and was replaced by Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Limited, a Nigerian shell company that was formed the day before the appointment. Mr. Volpi is one of three trustees of the Guernsey Trust Company whose sole activity is managing the Abubakar Blind Trust.
From 2003 to 2008, the Guernsey Trust Company wire transferred over $10 million into the United States, including about $7 million into Douglas and AUN accounts; $2.1 million into the Weidenfeld law firm and AUN accounts; and $900,000 into American University accounts. Two other offshore corporations, LetsGo Limited and Sima Holdings Limited, both of which are private corporations beneficially owned by Mr. Volpi and his family members, wire transferred nearly $27 million into the United States, including about $8 million into Ms. Douglas' accounts; $5.5 million into AUN accounts; and $13.1 million into American University accounts. Mr. Volpi told the Subcommittee that LetsGo and Sima Holdings sent millions of dollars to Ms. Douglas in connection with Abubakar's ownership interest in Intels and a line of credit that LetsGo had extended to the Bind Trust.
The case history on the former Vice President also demonstrated how, over an eight-year period from 2000 to 2008, Ms. Douglas and Abubakar were able to bring over $40 million in suspect funds into the United States, primarily through wire transfers sent by offshore corporations. Over this time period, Ms. Douglas opened over 30 accounts at U.S. banks, most of which were unaware of her PEP status due to incomplete PEP lists maintained by third party vendors and inadequate due diligence procedures. In one case, a bank failed to document her PEP status even after being told of her marriage to the former Vice President of Nigeria. In two instances, Ms. Douglas used her U.S. legal counsel, Mr. Weidenfeld, to help convince a bank to open an account. At each bank where she opened an account, she described herself as unemployed or a student, soon began receiving large wire transfers from offshore corporations, and explained when asked that she had little or no information about the companies sending her money, but believed the funds were being sent by her husband. At first, U.S. banks accepted this explanation and allowed Ms. Douglas to bring nearly $25 million over eight years into the United States. Over the last year, Mr. Weidenfeld accepted at least another $2.1 million in wire transfers from an unfamiliar offshore corporation, with no questions asked. Over five years, American University accepted $14 million. In each case, the bank, law firm, or university was told it was receiving funds from Abubakar.
The report showed that, “Abubakar is a complex figure in Nigerian politics. His 20-year career in the Nigerian Customs Service, 10-year stint as a private businessman, and 8-year tenure as Vice President of Nigeria, are difficult to evaluate, especially in a country plagued by corruption. His founding of Inters while a Customs official, the company's association with powerful government officials, its increasing economic profile, and its possible involvement with oil smuggling, raise questions about the basis for the company's success. Abubakar's quiet exchange of Intels shares for Orlean shares in 2003; his use of Orlean and then a shell company associated with Mr. Volpi to run his allegedly Blind Trust; and the millions of dollars sent by corporations associated with Mr. Volpi to Douglas-related accounts in the United States, raise a host of questions about the nature and source of Mr. Abubakar's wealth. An allegation by the SEC that Ms. Douglas received over $2 million in bribe payments from Siemens AG, intended in part for her husband, also cannot be dismissed.”
The Senate Committee equally proved that Abubakar and Douglas convinced U.S. banks, a U.S. law firm, and even a university to accept millions of dollars from unfamiliar offshore corporations to advance their interests. U.S. AML and PEP safeguards require further strengthening to prevent offshore corporations from sending millions of dollars of suspect funds into the U.S. financial system.
This unfortunate revelation is coming on the heels of the expected ruling of a High Court in Abuja fixed for this Monday January 10 to entertain the two applications emanating from a suit to bar former vice president from contesting the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primary.
Joe Gazama, counsel to PDP and Rickey Tarfa, counsel to Atiku, filed a joint application praying the court not to hear the suit.Chukwuma Ekomaro, counsel to the plaintiffs, had filed a motion praying the court to stop Atiku from participating in the party's presidential screening pending the determination of the case.
"Consequent upon the need to urgently decide the direction of this case and in view of the prayers sought by parties captured in the two applications before me, hearing on them is hereby fixed for Jan. 10," Justice Isaq Bello said last Friday.
Bala Takaya and Abdullahi Kirim had on December 16, 2010 brought an action against PDP and Atiku to stop the former vice president from contesting the presidential race on the platform of the party.
The motion on notice was brought under Orders of the High Court of Abuja Civil Procedure Rules 2004 and under the inherent powers of the court. The plaintiffs sought for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining the PDP, its agents, privies, representatives or whosoever is acting through it or on its behalf for the screening or clearance to contest party's presidential primaries, from selecting Atiku.
They also sought for an order of interlocutory injunction restraining Atiku from contesting or presenting himself for screening or clearance to contest the PDP presidential primary election for 2011 pending the determination of the case.
They contended that the second defendant (Atiku) between 1969 and 1989 was dismissed from the Nigerian Customs Service as a deputy director of customs.
The plaintiffs advanced that Atiku had been accused of money laundering and other corrupt practices by the American Senate's Permanent Sub-Committee on Investigation/Committee of Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
The plaintiffs contended that the second defendant, along with his fourth wife, Jennifer Douglas-Atiku, engaged in acts which thoroughly embarrassed the country in America and among the comity of nations. They said in the course of the investigation by the U.S. Senate committee, Atiku turned down an invitation for questioning.
Rickey had countered the allegations earlier, saying that the action was aimed at stripping his client of his rights to contest the 2011 presidential election.
Atiku Abubakar emerged as the lone challenger to the incumbent Jonathan after he was picked as the consensus candidate to represent the North after a screening exercise that included strong contenders such as former military president, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (retd), former National Security Adviser (NSA), Gen Muhammed Gusau (retd), and Governor of Kwara State, Dr. Bukola Saraki. This development will actually put the Adamawa political stalwart on a long hike.