November 14, 2009

Ex-US Congressman bags 13 years jail term

For soliciting funds to bribe ex-vice president, Atiku

By EMMA AZIKEN, with agency reports

A FORMER US Congressman slammed with corruption charges over business deals in Nigeria has been jailed for 13 years. William Jefferson, a Democrat from Louisiana was sentenced on Friday after he was found guilty on August 11 of 11 of 16 corruption charges by a Federal jury.

Jefferson was said to have solicited funds for the purpose of bribing former Vice-president Atiku Abubakar in respect of some telecommunication contracts.
Ninety thousand dollars of the bribe was found in Jefferson’s freezer when US government agents raided his home.

Alhaji Atiku reacting to the development spoke of his commitment to the fight against corruption and vowed that he would not be deterred by political conspiracies to smear him with corruption. Two of the counts relating to Nigeria and for which he was found guilty are:

William Jefferson and his wife Andrea Jefferson at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. on Friday

Count 2: Conspiracy to solicit bribes by a public official and deprive citizens of honest services by wire fraud related to his effort on behalf of Arkel Sugar, LETH Energy, TDC Overseas, Procura Financial Interests of South Africa and Worldspace for projects that included a sugar refinery and fertilizer plant in Nigeria, development of marginal oil fields in Nigeria, the sale of garbage-to-energy incinerators in West African nations; the development of satellite educational programming in several West African nations; and a settlement of a dispute regarding oil development rights off the coast of Sao Tome and Principe in West Africa;

Count 3: Solicit of bribes by a public official related to  allegations that Jefferson sought payments from iGate Inc, to a firm controlled by his wife Andrea, in return for his help securing telecomunications projects in Nigeria and Ghana.

He was not found guilty in respect of Counts 8 and 11, where Alhaji Atiku’s name was mentioned. These are: Count 8: Deprive citizens of honest services by wire fraud related to a fax from Jefferson to Mody attracting various documents including a letter to the then Nigerian vice president, Atiku Abubakar promoting a telecommunications project; and

Count 11: Violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act related to Jefferson’s discussion with Mody about possibly bribing Nigerian vice president Abubakar and other Nigerian officials. Charge includes transfer from Mody of $100,000 (in FBI money) that Jefferson said was intended as a bribe to Nigeria’s former vice president Abubakar.

All but $10,000 was later found in Jefferson’s freezer.
William Jefferson, a Democratic lawmaker who represented a district in the southern state of Louisiana that included part of New Orleans, was convicted in August on 11 of 16 counts, including bribery, money laundering and racketeering involving businesses in Africa.

The 13-year prison sentence, far less than the 27 years recommended by prosecutors, is said to be the longest prison term ever for a US lawmaker convicted on charges of corruption.

The previous record came in 2006, when former Republican congressman Randall “Duke” Cunningham received a prison sentence of eight years and four months for accepting bribes from defense contractors.

Jefferson, 62, was also ordered to forfeit more than $470,000 in assets. “In a stunning betrayal of the public’s trust, former congressman Jefferson repeatedly used his public office for private gain,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman said in a statement.

The lengthy prison sentence imposed on Mr Jefferson today is a stark reminder to all public officials that the consequences of accepting bribes can and will be severe.”
US District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III handed down Jefferson’s sentence at an Alexandria, Virginia courtroom just outside Washington.

“We expect to file an appeal at the appropriate time,” Jefferson’s attorney Amy Jackson told AFP. She declined to comment on the sentence. Following a six-week trial, the jury found that from 2000 to 2005, Jefferson used his post as a US lawmaker to obtain hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from oil, communications, sugar and other companies in Nigeria, Ghana, Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In turn, he advanced the interests of the businesses and individuals who paid the bribes, namely through his seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee – the chamber’s top tax-writing panel – without disclosing his own financial dealings with the ventures.

“Mr Jefferson’s repeated attempts to sell his office caused significant damage to the public’s trust in our elected leaders,” said US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Neil MacBride. Jefferson’s indictment in 2007, which followed a huge FBI corruption probe, listed a series of alleged schemes in Africa, including telecommunications deals, oil concessions, satellite transmission contracts and the development of industrial plants and other facilities.

The case came to light in August 2005, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Jefferson’s Washington home and found the cold cash, allegedly bribe money intended for the former Nigerian vice president, wrapped in aluminum foil and hidden in frozen food containers in his freezer.

In May 2006, FBI agents raided his congressional office – the first raid of its kind – in a move denounced by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Despite the exhaustive investigation, Jefferson won reelection in 2006 but lost a bid to keep his seat last year.

Atiku says he remains committed to anti-graft crusade

Meanwhile, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has restated his commitment to the fight against corruption saying he will not be deterred by political conspiracies to smear him with corruption.

Reacting to the imprisonment of the erstwhile United States Congressman William Jefferson, Atiku in a statement yesterday said the sentencing of the former congressman made foolish past efforts to link him with the antics of Jefferson.
Atiku’s media office in a reaction to the court’s verdict said: “The former vice president’s strong support of anti-corruption measures will not be diminished by the false accusations of a profiteer like William Jefferson.

Nor will they be diminished by those who abuse government power when they falsely accuse their political opponents of corruption. The vice president has been the victim of trumped up corruption charges by political adversaries in the past and in every case he has emerged with his reputation intact.

These repeated attacks on the vice president’s conduct and character underscore the dark side of anti-corruption campaigns – the use of unsubstantiated corruptions charges as a weapon against political opponents.

The fight against corruption is undermined when unfounded corruption charges are used for political gain. Atiku Abubakar reaffirms his commitment to democracy and his solidarity with those who are committed to honest government in Nigeria.  He invites those who share these values to join him in the struggle.”