Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA), its equivalent of the FBI, announced yesterday that its “recently formed International Corruption Unit has arrested five people across London as part of an investigation into suspected bribery and money laundering offences”.
The NCA didn’t name those arrested, but the editor of the BBC’s Hausa Service reported that the family of the former petroleum minister Diezani Madueke confirmed that she was arrested.
The International Corruption Unit (ICU) of the NCA was established in August this year by the Secretary (minister) for International Development Justine Greening to “be the central point for investigating international corruption in the UK”. The ICU brought “together existing investigation and intelligence units funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) from the Metropolitan Police Service, City of London Police and National Crime Agency. The multi-agency team will be operated by the National Crime Agency.”
Jon Benton, Joint Head of the ICU, said when the unit was set up: “The work we’re doing is absolutely vital for helping countries get back what is rightfully theirs. The message to individuals and companies who see developing countries as fair game is that the UK has zero tolerance for overseas bribery and corruption.”
UK authorities claim that: “Since 2006, DFID-police units in the UK have investigated more than 150 cases of overseas bribery and recovered £200 million of stolen assets as well as successfully prosecuting 27 individuals and one company.”
One of those investigations led to the conviction of James Ibori, the former governor of oil-rich Delta State in 2012 on ten counts of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the Nigerian public purse to the tune of $250m. Ibori was jailed for 13 years.
Allegations of corruption have swirled around Madueke for some time, and they reached fever pitch after her boss and former president Goodluck Jonathan was voted out of office in March. Madueke had been oil minister from 2010 to 2015 – a time in which the former Central Bank governor Lamido Sanusi alleged that $20bn went missing from the coffers of the nation’s oil company the NNPC. There are many other allegations of shady deals against the former oil minister.
Madueke would become of interest to the British authorities if any proceeds of her alleged corruption were laundered into the UK. Looters of public funds in Nigeria love nothing better than buying palatial homes in London and tend to have their money stashed away in British and other foreign banks. Madueke has remained in London since Muhammadu Buhari became president in May.
The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 covers the main UK anti-money laundering legislation. The regulations include provisions requiring banks and other financial institutions to report to the authorities suspicions of money laundering by customers. Money laundering means any handling or involvement with any proceeds of any crime (or assets representing the proceeds of crime).
In case anyone was wondering why Madueke, why now, what about the others, and so on, the answers lie in the way the British work, the nature of their relationship with Nigeria and the corporate interests that the British government serves.
It is very likely that, during the time she was in government, the British authorities knew and turned a blind eye to the type of corruption and money laundering that Madueke was arrested for yesterday. Any arrests then would have caused a major diplomatic incident, resulting in the sort of retaliation that could threaten the interests of British corporations operating in Nigeria. When the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) began investigations into the bribery of senior Saudi royals by British arms manufacturer BAE Systems to secure the Al Yamamah arms deals, then prime minister Tony Blair intervened in 2006 to stop the investigation, claiming it was not “in the public interest”.
Madueke will face the full force of British law because an opposition party that is hostile to her is now in power in Nigeria. Ibori’s circumstances were similar because he did not see eye to eye with then president Jonathan.
She has been bailed, with her passport confiscated, and will report at Charing Cross police station in central London on Monday. It is likely the charges will follow later. It is hard to imagine what must be going through her mind now. Would she have preferred to be tried in Nigeria? The widespread corruption of the judiciary and the incompetent case management of the prosecutors would have made it easier for her defence to run rings round the case, using all manner of technicalities to delay, frustrate, and possibly secure an acquittal.
It’s a different ball game with the Brits. The possibility of securing a conviction is a lot higher. The prosecution would have done their homework with the help forensic accountants and digital forensics experts who would establish the money trail of wire transfers to establish a strong money laundering case against Madueke.
If there is any consolation for her, it is that doing time in a British jail is a lot more comfortable than in a Nigerian prison. She may want to consult jailbird Ibori on this.