Nigeria: Crucifying Democracy on a Cross of Corruption

If the United States permits international politics to hijack the rule of law at home, then democracy and rule of law abroad will falter, especially in places like Nigeria.
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Corruption is cancerous to any democratic dispensation earmarked by the rule of law.

The United States knows all too well through spending a staggering $250 million daily in Afghanistan to prop up the corruption-laden administration of President Hamid Karzai. Afghanistan ranks as the second most corrupt nation in the world according to Transparency International.

The most persuasive influence of the United States abroad in promoting democracy and the rule of law is by example.

The United States Department of Justice should act aggressively to bring powerful foreign political figures to account for violating United States anti-corruption laws. The money laundering conviction of Panama's notorious Manuel Noriega is illustrative. In the aftermath, Panama now ranks 73 on Transparency International's corruption index.

If, as the United States Supreme Court held in Nixon v. United States (1973), the President of the United States is not above the law, the United States should not balk at indicting or prosecuting foreign politicians or family members for illegally employing the United States to launder the fruits of corruption. Strict enforcement is especially urgent in the prosecution of foreigners from countries whose judiciaries are politically compromised.

United States Senator Carl Levin amplified during a February 2010 hearing by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations:

Corruption is a cancer that corrodes the rule of law, undermines economic development, and eats away at the fabric of civil society. In extreme cases, corruption can destabilize communities, and lead to failed states, lawlessness, and terrorism. For the United States, which has so much riding on global stability, corruption is a direct threat to our national interests.

A case in point is that of Nigeria, which ranks on a par with Zimbabwe at 134 on Transparency International's hierarchy of corrupt nations. The stupendous thievery there has provoked violent upheaval in the oil-rich Niger Delta region and given encouragement to Al Qaeda in the Maghreb. Nigerian military dictator Sani Abachi stole and laundered approximately $5 billion in his lifetime with impunity, which seemingly emboldened others. Think about Nigeria's former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar and his fourth wife, Jennifer Douglas Abubakar, a United States citizen. Both were implicated in hundreds of pages of a February 2010 Report of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in suspect off-shore wire transfers of more than of $40 million into the United States. According to the Report, Jennifer Douglas' personal expenditures ranged up to $90,000 per month.

Mr. Abubakar attributed his substantial wealth to "fortunate investments," such as an ownership interest in "Intels," an oil service company that has grown into one of Nigeria's largest. In Nigeria, however, oil and corruption are synonyms. At present, Mr. Abubakar is seeking the presidential nomination in a primary scheduled by Nigeria's People's Democracy Party in mid-January 2011.

...Jennifer Douglas, [was] a U.S. citizen and a wife of Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President and former presidential candidate in Nigeria. From 2000 to 2008, she helped her husband bring more than $40 million in suspect money into the United States through wire transfers from offshore corporations. Ms. Douglas is alleged in a 2008 civil complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission to have received $2.8 million in bribe payments from a German conglomerate, Siemens AG. Siemens has pleaded guilty to criminal charges and settled civil charges related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, and told the Subcommittee that it sent payments to her account at Citibank. The Subcommittee located three wire transfers substantiating $1.7 million in payments from Siemens to Ms. Douglas in 2001 and 2002.

Of the $40 million, the Subcommittee traced nearly $25 million in offshore wire transfers into U.S. accounts controlled by Ms. Douglas, provided primarily by three offshore corporations called LetsGo, Sima Holdings, and Guernsey Trust Company. The five banks holding her accounts were generally unaware of Ms. Douglas' PEP status, and did not subject her accounts to enhanced monitoring, despite multiple, incoming wire transfers from Switzerland and Nigeria. One bank took seven years to find out she was a PEP [Politically Exposed Person]; after it did, it reviewed her account activity and closed her accounts.

The United States enacted the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977 (FCPA) to address corruption of foreign officials. It generally prohibits any person, foreign or domestic, from using the instrumentalities of interstate commerce to bribe foreign officials in their performance of official duties. In addition, companies whose securities are listed in the United States must keep books and records that accurately reflect transactions, and maintain internal accounting controls.

But the FCPA has serious shortcomings. It does not punish or otherwise sanction foreign officials who demand or receive bribes. Moreover, it does not address the practice of foreign officials laundering their ill-gotten wealth into the United States while escaping detection because of the difficulties regularly encountered in tracking down the source of their funds within foreign sovereignties. Corrupt governments are poor candidates for welcoming the F.B.I. to investigate incumbents or their political allies for money laundering or otherwise, as the case of the Abubakars demonstrates. Several banks ultimately closed the accounts of Jennifer because the source of huge sums purportedly wired by her husband Atiku could not be verified. It seems puzzling, nevertheless, that the U.S. Department of Justice has apparently neglected to investigate either Atiku or Jennifer for money laundering in violation of 18 U.S. C. 1956. She is a United States citizen; one of her accounts was the proven recipient of bribe money wired by Siemens that occasioned its guilty plea; Atiku was then Vice President; and, his wealth derived substantially from an oil industry investment.

It might be penny wise, but it is certainly pound foolish, for the United States to wink at prima facie cases of money laundering by prominent foreign political figures to advance transient diplomatic or economic objectives. If the United States permits international politics to hijack the rule of law at home, then democracy and rule of law abroad will falter, especially in places like Nigeria where anti-corruption laws are honored more in the breach than in the observance.

Shouldn't the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations be asking the Executive Branch whether foreign diplomacy shipwrecked a Justice Department money laundering investigation of Atiku and Jennifer Abubakar?

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