1 June 2013

Nigeria: U.S. Takes Over Alamieyeseigha's Mansion in Maryland

The Rockville, Maryland home of former Bayelsa state governor, Diepreye Alamaieyeseigha has been forfeited to the US government following the approval by a federal judge of the Justice Department's forfeiture order.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the forfeiture on the $700,000 Rockville, Maryland house was executed Friday after U.S District Judge Roger W. Titus granted the Justice Department's motion for default judgment against the property. The Justice Department said the house belonged to Diepreye Peter Solomon Alamieyeseigha, who was Bayelsa governor between 1999 and 2005.

According to prosecutors, Alamieyeseigha's assets were the proceeds of corruption. Alamieyeseigha has previously denied the allegations in court filings. A lawyer for Alamieyeseigha could not be immediately reached for comment.

The forfeiture is part of a fledgling Justice Department initiative dedicated to seeking out assets in the U.S. linked to high-level foreign corruption. Last year, a federal district judge in Massachusetts granted a motion for default judgment and civil forfeiture on a $401,931 Massachusetts brokerage fund that allegedly belonged to Alamieyeseigha.

"Foreign officials who think they can use the United States as a stash-house are sorely mistaken," Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman said in a news release. "Through the Kleptocracy Initiative, we stand with the victims of foreign official corruption as we seek to forfeit the proceeds of corrupt leaders' illegal activities."

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 pleaded guilty to money laundering on behalf of two companies he controlled--Solomon & Peters Ltd. and Alamieyeseigha and Santolina Investment Corp.

Nigerian President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Alamieyeseigha successor in the state, granted an unconditional pardon to Alamieyeseigha in March, sparking outrage among local media and Jonathan's political opponents. The pardon didn't appear to effect the U.S. Justice Department's efforts.

Alamieyeseigha has been the focus of legal scrutiny in the U.K. In 2006, the High Court of Justice in London found 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.

The home in Rockville, a suburb of Washington, D.C., is owned by Solomon & Peters Ltd., a shell company controlled by Alamieyeseigha, according to court papers. The Justice Department and Alamieyeseigha offered drastically different accounts of how the house came to be in his possession.

In previous court filings, Alamieyeseigha had choice words for the U.S. efforts and Nigeria's political culture.

The Justice Department didn't say where the forfeited funds would be directed. According to the news release, "where possible and appropriate [the Justice Department will] return those corruption proceeds for the benefit of the people of the nations harmed by the corruption."

With Agency Report

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