Diezani Alison-Madueke, Nigeria’s former minister of petroleum, has become emblematic of the rampant corruption that held sway in Nigeria under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and a new US Justice Department (DOJ) lawsuit is providing more insight into the scale of theft of Nigeria’s oil riches under her watch.
The civil lawsuit, brought by DOJ’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, is seeking to recover $144 million in assets, including a $50 million luxury condo apartment in New York and a $80 million yacht. Prosecutors say both assets were proceeds from bribes paid by two Nigerian businessmen for lucrative Nigerian oil contracts. The lawsuit seeks the forfeiture of both assets.
Prosecutors claim that the businessmen, Kolawole Aluko, a former beau of supermodel Naomi Campbell, and Olajide Omokore, laundered money through the US by purchasing lavish assets. The $50 million New York condo is at One57, located opposite Carnegie Hall in midtown Manhattan. The building currently holds the record for the most-expensive residential sale in New York following a $100.5 million apartment purchase in 2014. Aluko’s $50 million condo is the 8th most expensive in the building, but following a loan default, his mortgage lenders are set to auction the apartment on July 19. Aluko is also said to have purchased Galactica Star, a $80 million 65-meter yacht which hosted Beyonce’s 32nd birthday bash in 2013.
Aluko and Omokore are alleged to have paid bribes between 2011 and 2015 to then-petroleum minister Alison-Madueke who ensured that shell companies owned by the businessmen received billion-dollar contracts to sell Nigeria’s crude oil. The oil swap contracts were a controversial barter arrangement which saw Nigeria use middlemen to sell crude oil in exchange for refined products. With local refineries under-performing, oil swap deals were used to shore up local demand for petroleum products. Between 2010 and 2014, under Diezani’s watch, Nigeria is estimated to have channeled over 352 million barrels of oil worth a total of $35 billion (pdf) into oil swap deals.
But with the contracts mostly opaque, Nigeria reportedly lost more than $900 million in crude oil swap deals between 2009 and 2012. The deals came under severe scrutiny with Lamido Sanusi, former Central Bank of Nigeria governor, once describing them “not properly structured, monitored and audited.” Nigeria’s president Buhari cancelled the oil swap arrangement in November 2015, seven months after taking office.
Court documents reveal that Alison-Madueke tried to warn Aluko and Omokore against lavish spending including splashing out on a yacht. “If you want to hire a yacht, you lease it for two weeks or whatever. You don’t go and sink funds into it at this time when Nigerian oil and gas sector is under all kinds of watch,” she said to Aluko in a recorded conversation.
It’s not the first time Alison-Madueke has been named in major oil-related corruption scandals. In October 2015, the ex-minister was arrested in London on charges of money laundering.