Congressman Jefferson Probe Leads to Crisis in Nigerian Government

By Brian Ross And Joseph Rhee

Nov 3, 2006 12:56pm

Nigerian officials say the bribery investigation of Congressman William Jefferson (D-La.) has uncovered a massive corruption scheme involving several members at the highest levels of the Nigerian government.  Acting on information provided by the FBI, Nigerian fraud investigators have now indicted Vice President Atiku Abubakar on 14 counts of corruption, involving tens of millions of dollars allegedly diverted from government accounts. According to Nuhu Ribadu, head of a new anti-corruption squad created by Nigeria’s president, $23 million of the diverted money is still missing.  Ribadu said $6.7 million of the missing funds has been traced to a U.S. company tied to Congressman Jefferson’s family. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Video Nigerian VP Maintains Innocence in Jefferson Investigation The Inside Story of FBI’s Historic Raid on Capitol Hill Undercover FBI Agent Drove Rep. Jefferson to Nigerian Vice President’s House Click Here to Check Out More of the Brian Ross Page Ribadu said, "He, as a congressman of the U.S.A., he used that position to initiate and transact business in Nigeria, and as a result of it, money was taken out from the government of Nigeria, and that money was lost." During the case, Nigerian investigators discovered that their vice president was living part of the year in a $2 million mansion outside Washington, D.C., purchased in the name of his fourth wife, an American. It was here in July of 2005, investigators say, that Jefferson met with Vice President Abubakar to allegedly discuss steering a Nigerian telecommunications contract to the U.S. firm.  According to the FBI, at that meeting Abubakar demanded up to half of the future profits in the deal in exchange for his assistance. In August, $90 thousand of marked FBI cash was found in Jefferson’s freezer, money that the FBI says was the first installment of a $500,000 bribe to the Nigerian vice president to help further the business deal. Jefferson has not yet been charged with a crime and is running for re-election. Maintaining that he is innocent, Jefferson said, "I never intended to dishonor my office…and I certainly did not sell my office." In an interview with ABC News, Vice President Abubakar denied any wrongdoing, saying, "The allegations against me have no substance because it cannot be proved."  He said he neither asked for nor received a kickback or a bribe and said that Jefferson was using his name to defraud American investors. According to Abubakar, "He betrayed my trust, and he betrayed the trust of my country." Several other top Nigerian officials, including a state governor, have also been implicated in the scheme to divert government funds, triggering a political crisis in Parliament. Nigeria’s President Olusegun Obasanjo was forced to go on television to declare a state of emergency after the indicted governor apparently fled the country.

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