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Muhammadu Buhari’s 2015 presidential victory owed much to the perception among Nigerians that the preceding Jonathan administration and the governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presided over a kleptocracy. That perception was correct, and more details continue to emerge. The latest, reported by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), involves former petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke.
On July 14, the Justice Department announced that it had filed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture and recovery of some $144 million, the proceeds of Nigerian corruption and allegedly laundered in and through the United States. The complaint states that, from 2011 to 2015, two Nigerian businessmen, Kolawole Akanni Aluko and Olajide Omokore, conspired to bribe the petroleum minister in return for her help in securing oil contracts for their shell companies. The resulting proceeds were then used to buy assets in the United States, including a $50 million apartment at 157 West 57th Street in New York, and an $80 million yacht. The complaint also refers to the purchase of similar real estate in London. It states that the businessmen provided Alison-Madueke with a luxurious lifestyle, but it does not make clear who owns the assets purchased with the laundered funds. In its civil forfeiture complaint, the Justice Department is alleging that the money and property involved are the proceeds of a crime. However, these allegations must be proven in a U.S. court of law, and that has not yet happened
The U.S. DOJ brought the case under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. In cooperation with federal law enforcement agencies and often with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the Department of Justice seeks the forfeiture of the proceeds of foreign official corruption, and to return those assets to the benefit of the people harmed by acts of corruption. The Nigerian government has long urged foreign governments to be proactive in recovering stolen assets laundered abroad. Two recent Council on Foreign Relations publications address U.S. policy toward African kleptocracy: How the Trump Administration Can help Combat Kleptocracy in Africa and Improving U.S. Anti-corruption Policy in Nigeria.