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DoJ seeks to recover $144M in Nigerian oil industry corruption case

Jaclyn Jaeger | July 18, 2017

The Department of Justice has filed a civil complaint seeking the forfeiture and recovery of approximately $144 million in assets obtained from corruption in the Nigerian oil industry.

From 2011 to 2015, Nigerian businessmen Kolawole Akanni Aluko and Olajide Omokore conspired with others to pay bribes to Nigeria’s former Minister for Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, who oversaw Nigeria’s state-owned oil company, the complaint states. In return for these improper benefits, Alison-Madueke used her influence to steer lucrative oil contracts to companies owned by Aluko and Omokore.

The complaint alleges that the proceeds of those illicitly awarded contracts were then laundered in and through the United States and used to purchase various assets subject to seizure and forfeiture, including a $50 million New York condominium and an $80 million yacht.

“The United States is not a safe haven for the proceeds of corruption,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco. “Corrupt foreign officials and business executives should make no mistake: If illicit funds are within the reach of the United States, we will seek to forfeit them and to return them to the victims from whom they were stolen.”

“Along with the Department of Justice, international law enforcement partners, and other U.S. federal agencies, the FBI is committed to pursuing all those who attempt to advance their businesses through corrupt practices,” said Assistant Director-in-Charge Andrew Vale.

The government alleges that Aluko, Omokore, and others funded a lavish lifestyle for Alison-Madueke by conspiring to purchase millions of dollars in real estate in and around London for Alison-Madueke and her family members, and then renovated and furnished these homes with millions of dollars in furniture, artwork, and other luxury items.

In return, the government alleges Alison-Madueke used her influence to direct a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to award Strategic Alliance Agreements (SAAs) to two shell companies created by Aluko and Omokore: Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Nigeria and Atlantic Energy Brass Development (the Atlantic Companies). Under the SAAs, the Atlantic Companies were required to finance the exploration and production operations of eight on-shore oil and gas blocks.

In return for financing these operations, the companies expected to receive a portion of the oil and gas produced. However, the complaint states, the Atlantic Companies provided only a fraction of the agreed upon financing or, in some instances, failed entirely to provide it.

The companies also failed to meet other obligations under the SAAs, including the payment of $120 million entry fee. Nevertheless, the allegations states, the companies were permitted to lift and sell more than $1.5 billion worth of Nigerian crude oil. The government contends the Atlantic Companies then used a series of shell companies and intermediaries to launder a portion of the total proceeds of these arrangements into and through the United States.

“A civil forfeiture complaint is merely an allegation that money or property was involved in or represents the proceeds of a crime,” the Justice Department stated. “These allegations are not proven until a court awards judgment in favor of the United States.”

This case was brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative. This initiative is led by a team of prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies, and often with U.S. Attorney’s Offices, to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, to use those recovered assets to benefit the people harmed by these acts of corruption and abuse of office.