by Seyi Lawal
In April 2011, the US Deparment of Justice filed paper work to seize US-based assets of former Bayelesa State Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha—a home in the state of Maryland, and an account in a brokerage firm in Massachusetts. In all, the Justice Department would be aiming for just over $1 million worth of assets of the ex-governor’s. All of which they believed were funds allegedly siphoned off from the oil-rich Bayelsa State’s coffers, a charge Alamieyeseigha denied.
According to a news release, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer said, “With a declared income of less than $250,000, Mr. Alamieyeseigha accumulated millions of dollars worth of property over a six-year period.” The statement continued, “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.”
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.
Whether or not the funds will be returned to Nigeria is still in question. The news release reportedly said, “where appropriate, [the Justice Department will] return those proceeds to benefit those harmed.”