Fighting corruption across borders

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As he remains confined and deprived of personal freedom, the imprisonment of Nigeria’s “untouchable” James Ibori former governor of oil-rich Delta state has led to more scrutiny from foreign partners as they call for greater cooperation in closing off avenues for laundering stolen funds.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Nigeria researcher, Eric Guttschuss is calling on both Nigerian’s anti-corruption officials and foreign governments including the United States and the United Kingdom where these individuals may launder stolen public funds to work closely together.

He stressed that foreign organisations and international NGOs should use their influence to “name and shame” politicians who have been implicated on issues of corruption. “Push politicians to stop,” he added.

The collaboration he said is aimed to “pressure the Nigerian government to take specific steps to allow for a more vigorous and independent campaign against high level corruption.”

On how this can be done, Mr Guttschuss said: “I think they can take a more robust approach in terms of what the UK did in the case of Ibori.”

Ibori was the governor of Delta state between May 1999 and May 2007 who defrauded the people he was elected to represent. During his tenure, Ibori bought a house in Hampstead, north London, for £2.2 million ($3.48 million), a property in Shaftesbury, Dorset, for £311,000 ($491,536). A £3.2 million ($5.1 million) mansion in Sandton, near Johannesburg, South Africa, a fleet of armoured Range Rovers valued at £600,000 ($948,301.9), a £120,000 ($189,660) Bentley and a Mercedes Maybach for £323,565 ($511,396) that was shipped to his mansion in South Africa.

Ibori pleaded guilty to the 10-count charge of fraud, money laundering and corruption put at about $250 million (£158.18 million). He was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment by Southwark London Court

“I think these countries should collaborate more to avoid further occurrences like that of Ibori. Ibori’s case is one of the examples where the UK agencies were able to work well to prosecute corrupt officials,” says political adviser attached to the high commissioner of Canada to Nigeria, Alexandra Mackenzie.

Even though there hasn’t been any corruption or criminal charges filed against any Nigerian government official or politician within the US, Mr Guttschuss praised the move by United Kingdom’s Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police Service in ensuring that Ibori’s $3 million (£1.9 million) assets in the states was frozen.

Following an application from United Kingdom courts, the United States Department of Justice granted an application and issued a restraining order under seal on May 21, of a mansion in Houston and two Merrill Lynch brokerage accounts relating to James Ibori.

Human Rights Watch believes his imprisonment “is a landmark in the global fight against corruption.” Daniel Bekele, African director at HRW added in its website: “by prosecuting Ibori, the UK authorities have struck a blow not only against financial crimes at home, but also impunity for corruption around the globe.”

Ibori had worked as a cashier at a Wickes DIY store in Ruislip, north-west London. He was convicted in 1991 of stealing from the store but then returned to Nigeria and began his climb up the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) network.

In 2007, when Ibori was still governor of Delta State, Nigerian anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) began drawing up corruption charges against him. Before leaving office, Ibori allegedly attempted to bribe Nuhu Ribadu, who was then the head of the commission, with $15 million in cash to drop the investigation.

Ribadu, a senior police officer, says that he accepted the money, but then deposited it in Nigeria’s Central Bank for safekeeping as evidence. In December 2007, the commission shocked Nigeria’s political establishment by arresting Ibori and charging him with money laundering and abuse of office.

Many Nigerians had assumed that Ibori was untouchable because he was a close ally of Umaru Yar’Adua, the president at the time, and was widely believed to have financially backed the president’s election campaign.

Ibori’s corruption case was transferred to a court in the former governor’s home state. In December 2009, a new judge, Marcel Awokulehin, dismissed all 170 counts against Ibori, including the $15 million bribery charge, without hearing any evidence at trial.

“I think the other thing would be to use their influence to put pressure on the Nigerian authorities to carry out overdue reforms and to ensure that they do not interfere with these cases,” says Mr Guttschuss.

On August 10, US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton visited Nigeria to discuss anti-corruption efforts and Boko Haram violence with Nigeria government. Expressing concern of the US government in Nigeria’s corrupt reputation, she advised Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan to take appropriate measures in fighting corruption and communal violence in the country.

After Yar’Adua’s death, it was believed that Ibori lost his protection from the presidency.  In April 2010, the EFCC issued a warrant for Ibori’s arrest, based on new corruption allegations in connection with a petition by the Delta Elders Forum that Ibori looted £17.6 million from Delta state government while he was governor.

Ibori, managed to avoid arrest and fled to Dubai.

It took the collaboration of three countries, United Arab Emirate (UAE), UK and Nigeria to track down Ibori. Stressing the importance of cooperation of foreign partners, Mr Guttschuss said: “If UAE had refused to honour the extradition request put out for him by the UK, Ibori’s case could have been different.”

Stating that it took persistent pressure from the UK to get Nigeria to cooperate with London Metropolitan Police, Dayo Olaide, economic governance manager for Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) Senegal said international organisations can put pressure on the government of Nigeria and other countries where corruption is prevalent both in terms of investigation or even providing assistance for them to undertake investigations.”

Mr Olaide frowned that only UK prosecuted Ibori when he laundered money in different countries. This he said shows that there are still opportunities for laundering money in other parts of the world. “He suggested that international organisations can first advocate for countries around the world to strengthen the law and rule against anti-money laundering as well as canvassing for effective implementation of those laws.”

“To win the fight against money laundering, we must make the world unsafe for corrupt officials,” he added.

British police accused Ibori of stealing $250m (£160m) over eight years and some $35 million ($22.11 million) of his alleged UK assets were frozen in 2007.

As his trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court was about to begin, Mr Ibori changed his plea to guilty and admitted stealing money from Delta state and laundering it in London through a number of offshore companies. Ibori had secret accounts and companies in London, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Polynesia, Panama, the Marshall Islands and South Africa.

Commonwealth Development Cooperation (CDS), the private enterprise arm of Department for International Development (DFID) in Nigeria, is said to have put $47.5m (£29.9m) into a private equity fund which was invested in Nigerian companies allegedly linked to Ibori.

“Ibori never should have been allowed to bring the proceeds of corruption into the UK. If our institutions have been more diligent in asking about the sources of this fund then they probably would not have accepted business from him,” says executive director of Transparency International UK, Chandu Krishnan.

Mr Krishnan said TI is working towards ensuring that UK institution does not in any way contribute to the problem of corruption in Nigeria.

“We can also ensure that politicians and officials in Nigeria who may be amassing wealth are not able to find a safe haven for that wealth in banks and institutions in the UK,” he added.

Ibori’s case is not the first time political officials from Nigeria have laundered money in UK. In 2001 there was money laundering scandal involving 15 British banks and late Nigerian dictator, Gen. Sani Abacha. The banks, including top-notch London banks, such as Barclays, Natwest and HSBC, had accepted about $1.3bn in deposit from the corrupt Nigerian dictator.

Also in 2004, Nigerian politician, Joshua Dariye was arrested in London on money laundering charges. He was the governor of Plateau State between 1999 and 2007.

Former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was also arrested in London on money-laundering charges. The governor at the time used UK banks as his medium of embezzling state funds. He accumulated in Britain assets exceeding £10m in value.

As part of United Kingdom’s effort to prevent money laundering, there are inter-governmental bodies like Financial Action Task Force (FATF) whose purpose is to develop and promote national and international policies to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.

FATF which Nigeria is part of requires every member states to establish a financial intelligence unit which demands that every suspicious transaction is reported. “The international organisation can make sure Nigeria complies with FATF and every other provision.” If they fail to comply the OSIWA adviser said, adequate sanctions should be imposed.

“It is the responsibility of the UK agencies, banks and people involved to watch and prevent (stolen money) from entering the country,” says Dr Dan Hough, interim director of Sussex centre for the study of corruption at Sussex University.

The centre takes an interdisciplinary approach to analysing what corruption is, where and why it flourishes and also what can be done to counteract it. It officially came into being over the summer of 2011 and aims to be a world-leading centre of corruption analysis. The centre will work closely with organisations such as Transparency International in developing recommendations and proposals for combating corruption both in the United Kingdom and further afield.

The Proceed of Crime Act (POCA) is also UK’s money laundering regulatory body which insists that institutions must know their customer, including the nature and origin of their funds. They are required to take concrete steps to manage the particular risk associated with providing financial and business services to government ministers or officials especially from countries with widely known problems of bribery, corruption and financial irregularities.

The effect of POCA and the regulations is that regulated institutions must make reports if they suspect funds relating to the proceeds of corruption.

“I think we need to see more sanctions,” says Mr Krishnan. According to him, the greater the severity of penalties the greater the effect as that will ensure fewer institutions would commit these offences”

Responding to the allegation on CDS, a DFID spokesperson said in a statement that CDS always carries out full and thorough checks before investigating a fund manager and the subsequent investigation gives no indication whatsoever that it aided Ibori’s laundering.

TI boss UK, recommended that in future banks and institutions needs to be doubly sure that they are not complacent in helping corrupt officials store wealth.

Nigeria’s struggle is moving slowly. Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2011, which evaluates 183 countries, put Nigeria at 143 (2.4). The country ranked 134 out of 178 countries in 2010 (2.4).

“We are doing our best as positive actors and supporters to bring Nigeria up the Transparency International ranking,” says Ms Mackenzie.

Out of 183 countries, Canada is ranked 10 (8.7) by TI’s Corruption Perception Index 2011.

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. A country/territory’s score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 – 10, where 0 means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 10 means that a country is perceived as very clean. A country’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries/territories included in the index. Over time, perceptions have proved to be a reliable estimate of corruption.

As part of Canadian embassy’s efforts to reduce corruption in Nigeria, the embassy trains the police and the judiciary as a step towards preventing corruption and holding people accountable for corrupt practices.  The commission is also focusing on discussing anti-corruption measures with governors, politicians, senate house members and local chairman on capacity building generally as well as helping to deal with the issue of corruption.

Accepting that no country is entirely free from corruption Ms Mackenzie said: “In Canada we have some issues ourselves, so nobody is immune to it but it is about a sustained kind of culture that doesn’t accept it and that is something that over the long term Nigeria could work towards.”

She believes countries needs to work together to avoid transnational crimes which is inherent in Nigerian politics. “Police across countries need to be in contact with each other and know how to work together,” she said.

In the extractive sector, the embassy signed on to the Nigerian Extractive Industry Transparency International (NEITI) which is mandated by law to promote transparency and accountability in the management of Nigeria’s oil, gas and mining revenues.

The discovery of crude oil and natural gas are the two major events seen to have led to a litany of corrupt practices in the country.

“International oil companies like shell needs to be firm in order to avoid been involved in corruption cases in Nigeria,” says a source from United Nations Office of Crime and Drugs (UNODC) “They have to lead by example,” he added.

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) is the largest fossil fuel company in Nigeria, which operates over 6,000 kilometres of pipelines and flowlines, 87 flowstations, 8 natural gas plants and more than 1,000 producing wells.

A recent report by the Guardian says the escalating cost of Shell’s security operation in Delta state has further destabilised the oil rich region and helped to fuel rampant corruption and criminality.

Dr Christine Cheng, Bennett Boskey Fellow in Politics and International Relations and Post-Doc at Oxford University said there should be massive pressure from the international partners on companies like shell to “be at the forefront of good practices.” They can in turn influence the government internally to get clean.

Stating that foreign partners must not necessarily come to Nigeria physically to help, the UNODC official pointed out that international bodies can help by providing technical assistance, political pressure and advisory support.

According to him, there is no information sharing mechanism amongst the national anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria including EFCC, Independent and Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB). He said international community can help in this area as well as pressure Nigerian government to see the needs/importance of training “judges to be able to handle the strength of prosecuting” corrupt public officials.

 

Through its office in Nigeria, the UNODC has been cooperating with the Federal Government, its specialised agencies, in particular the EFCC, the Judiciary as well as with civil society and the private sector in combating corruption.

 

The main convention that helps countries to fight corruption is the United Nations Convention Against Corruption signed by 144 countries including Nigeria. It is through the innovative that UNODC and its partners implement projects in Nigeria.

The organisation has rendered support to the EFCC and the Nigerian judiciary. The project entitled “Support to the EFCC and the Nigerian Crimes Commission” is a 24.7 million euros (£19.61 million) project, primarily funded by the European Union under the 9th European Development Fund.

Some specific project interventions include the strengthening of the operational capacities of the agency, including the provision of specialised training for staff and management, the delivery of basic operational equipment, the building of the EFCC’s Training and Research Institute, as well as the creation of a forensic laboratory and the mentoring of its staff.

 

The project has also provided the EFCC with a state-of the-art IT system and helped in developing and implementing custom-made specialised database applications  including goAML, goIDM and goCASE as well as ADAMN used in case-management,  financial intelligence analysis and donor coordination.

The UNODC source revealed that 14 staff are currently sitting in one regulatory body which is Public Procurement reform Programme (PPP) “working with them, supporting them to develop ideas innovations and prevent corruption through public procurement.”

Corruption in Nigeria’s public procurement is a grand scale jamboree that involves politicians, government officials and the private sector, conspiring to siphon money off the government budgets. It is also the easiest indirect method of misuse of power and resources by top level officials.

UNODC has successfully developed advanced solutions to help combat and fight the menace of corruption at the Information Technology level. For this particular issue of public procurement, UNODC has designed goPRS and goIDM to help unify international and national efforts to combat public procurement corruption.

The Public Procurement Review Software (goPRS) is the substantive system that will address the monitoring and oversight of public procurement in Nigeria, designed specifically to automate the complex mandate of Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), as proposed by UNODC through its Information and Technology Service (ITS) to meet the current and foreseen future needs of BPP. The project execution will be spread over a three year period starting from this year.

“We are continuously supporting Nigeria every day and every time,” the UNODC source said.

Nigeria is also coming under pressure from more successful anti-corruption action in other countries and from ‘people power’ protests in other developing nations.

For instance in India, a lone social activist Anna Hazare made headlines across the world when he launched an indefinite hunger strike on 5 April 2011 to exert pressure on the Indian government to enact a stringent anti-corruption law including the appointment of an ombudsman with power to deal with corruption in public places. The fast led to a nation-wide protest which involved millions of people in support. After just four days the government accepted Hazare’s demands agreeing to set up a joint committee of government and civil society representatives to draft the legislation.

Compared to Nigeria and other African countries, the anti-graft agency in Botswana has been contributory to the relatively less corrupt environment that is experienced in the country.

Despite the deep red marking of Sub-Saharan Africa on the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index map which confirms that public sector corruption is seen as endemic in the region, Botswana, Cape Verde, Mauritius and Rwanda score above five on the Index. Botswana appeared at 32 (6.1) ahead of other African countries including Nigeria.

Corruption was endemic in Botswana especially in high offices. Corruption became a problem in the 1990’s as a result of ‘political complacency’ and “an optimistic assumption that the problem of corruption had been effectively managed.”

It is widely reported that the commitment of the leadership in ensuring good governance, improving the standards of living of the people and the efforts of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) led to a drastic reduction in corruption.

Canadian embassy expressed their readiness to support any programme aimed at tackling corruption in Nigeria.

OSIWA economic adviser believes: “The fact that UK government was able to take up Ibori’s case and prosecute it successfully, and get Ibori to become convicted has opened additional window for people to pursue anti-corruption perfectly, so that where the national system is failing, people can begin to look outside of their countries for complementary role, systems, that can help them to ensure that the corrupt official is actually prosecuted.”

In its efforts to pressure the Nigerian government to act, the Human Rights Watch produce research papers/reports exposing the issues of corruption in Nigeria. Last year it published a 64-page report entitled “Corruption on Trial” which detailed the inefficiency of EFCC and Nigerian government to tackle corruption. “We will continue to monitor and highlight some of these issues and cases of human rights violation that has bearing to corruption,” says Mr Guttschuss.

Explaining the aim of the report, he said: “At the end it’s to pressure the Nigerian government to take steps that will strengthen the judiciary and the EFCC to take tangible steps to address corruption that has rubbed Nigerians of on one hand the right to education and on the other hand, it has led to direct human rights abuses.”

He confirmed that they are currently working on a report on the Boko Haram violence in northern and central Nigeria and also the criminal justice system within Plateau state and Kaduna state on addressing issues of communal violence.

On November 23, 2011 Ibrahim Lamorde became the EFCC chairman; the HRW says it will put out a report on his first year in office by November this year.  “We can use anniversaries like that to look back, review, analyse and to bring under spotlight the records of some of these officials and hopefully to put pressures either to continue the work or to carry out changes or reforms,” Mr Guttschuss added.

As for Ibori, it is believed that, 99 days for the thief and one day for the owner. He is reaping the dividends of his actions in prison. Nigerians are pleased with the outcome and can only hope that more corrupt politicians are brought to book through the cooperation of foreign partners.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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