The United States Department of Justice on Thursday successfully executed a forfeiture order on the sum of $401,931 (60 Million Naira) seized from a Fidelity Brokerage Services LLC account in Massachusetts owned by a former governor of Bayelsa State, Cheif Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.
The forfeiture was the first victory for a fledgling Justice Department initiative dedicated to seeking out assets in the U.S linked to high-level foreign corruption.
Prosecutors filed court papers in April 2011 targeting a $600,000 Maryland home and a Massachusetts brokerage account belonging to Alamieyeseigha, who was Bayelsa governor from 1999 to 2005.
Alamieyeseigha was impeached in December 2005 by the Bayelsa State House of Assembly and was consequently prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on a 40-count charge of money laundering.
He was eventually convicted in 2007 on a six-count charge and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, although he was expected to spend two years.
He forfeited shares worth over N1bn in the defunct Bond Bank and a luxury penthouse in Cape Town, South Africa, which has three en-suite bedrooms, two lounges, a designer kitchen, an entertainment room, five plasma screen television sets and a sound system worth half a million rands to the Bayelsa State Government.
Other properties forfeited were located in Abuja and Ikoyi in Lagos State.
According to U.S prosecutors, Alamieyeseigha’s assets were the proceeds of corruption. But Alamieyeseigha denied the allegations in court filings.
Earlier this month, a federal district judge in Massachusetts granted a motion for default judgment and civil forfeiture on the brokerage account, the Prosecutors executed the forfeiture order Thursday.
“With a declared income of less than $250,000, Mr. Alamieyeseigha accumulated millions of dollars worth of property over a six-year period.
“Today’s announcement – the first forfeiture judgment obtained under our Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative – sends a powerful message about the United States’ commitment to rooting out corruption far and wide,” ,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said in a statement.
A Nigerian court sentenced Alamieyeseigha to two years in prison in 2007 for failing to declare assets in Nigeria, South Africa and the U.S.
Prosecutors said he bought more than $8 million in properties with bribes he received from contractors while serving as governor. Alamieyeseigha also pleaded guilty to money laundering on behalf of two companies he controlled — Solomon & Peters Ltd. and Alamieyeseigha and Santolina Investment Corp.
In 2006, the High Court of Justice in London found that three of Alamieyeseigha’s properties there, as well as accounts held by Santolina, represented bribe money or were traceable to bribes Alamieyeseigha took from contractors in Nigeria.
After he was arrested at Heathrow Airport in 2005, police found about $1.6 million in cash in his house.
A lawyer for Alamieyeseigha didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In civil forfeiture cases, the Justice Department can file complaints in federal court against property, rather than individuals, linked to foreign corruption. The forfeiture against Alamieyeseigha’s Maryland house is pending in federal court in Maryland.
The Justice Department didn’t say where the forfeited funds would be directed.
According to the statement, “Where appropriate (the Justice Department will) return those proceeds to benefit those harmed.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to an enquiry about whether or not the funds would be returned to Nigeria.
US Assistant Attorney-General Lanny Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division had given an indication of the move to seize Alamieyeseigha’s property in a speech at the Franz-Hermann Brüner Memorial Lecture at the World Bank on May 25, 2011.
He had said, “The Kleptocracy Team recently brought its first cases, and we expect more to come in the near future. Let me provide a specific example.
“Diepreye (Solomon Peter) Alamieyeseigha, also known as DSP, was the elected governor of the oil-producing Bayelsa State in Nigeria from 1999 until his impeachment in 2005.
“According to court papers, DSP’s official salary for this entire period was approximately $81,000, and his declared income from all sources during the period was approximately $248,000.
“Nevertheless, as governor, DSP accumulated enormous wealth through corruption and other illegal activities. He acquired at least four properties in the United Kingdom worth approximately $8.8m, he had money in bank accounts around the world, and he also acquired property in the United States.
“When he was ultimately arrested at Heathrow Airport in 2005, the Metropolitan Police Service in London found approximately $1.6m in cash in his house.
“In March and April of this year, we brought two separate civil forfeiture actions to recover over $1,000,000 in what we allege are DSP’s ill-gotten gains. In Maryland, we are seeking forfeiture of a private residence worth more than $600,000, and in Massachusetts we are seeking forfeiture of close to $400,000 in a fidelity brokerage account.