By Dotun Oloko
Dear Mr. President: I am writing to express my deep concern that the U.S. government, through its development finance agency, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), supports financial intermediaries that stand accused of corruption, fraud and money laundering through investments in a number of Nigerian companies and banks that have been reported to be “fronts” for the alleged laundering of money said to have been obtained corruptly by the former Governor of Nigeria’s oil rich Delta State, James Ibori. OPIC sponsored US based Emerging Capital Partners (ECP), through the Africa Fund II, has been making investments alongside close associates of James Ibori. Ibori has since pleaded guilty to money laundering and corruption charges in the UK. ECP has strongly denied all allegations and consequently OPIC has absolved ECP of any wrongdoing despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
History has shown repeatedly, for example in the Nixon-Watergate scandal that in instances of high level corruption or wrongdoing the subsequent cover-up tends to generate graver consequences than the preceding transgression. History appears to be repeating itself in the case of OPIC because OPIC’s handling of the allegations levelled against ECP has generated graver accusations of wrongdoing on the part of OPIC itself and is in danger of damaging the reputation of the US in the process.
To its credit the U. S. is leading the global anti-corruption war with its robust laws and prosecutions. As a Nigerian, I can vouch for the positive impact that U. S. prosecutions such as Jefferson, Siemens, Halliburton and Willbros have had on the anti-corruption battle in Nigeria. While acknowledging the U.S.’s support and contribution to development in Nigeria, I am nevertheless troubled by these serious allegations given that high level corruption has been universally acknowledged to be the single biggest impediment to growth and development in Nigeria.
It is therefore a matter of deep concern that OPIC has absolved ECP of any wrongdoing, in staggering ignorance of or disregard for its own policies, recommendations, US laws and international agreements. In reaching its decision OPIC appears to have relied exclusively on the unsubstantiated self certification and assurances provided by ECP while dismissing the evidence of public and private records provided to OPIC.
To give just one example out of many, the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) produced an affidavit on the 30th October 2007 which at section 16xxix refers to an OPIC investee company, Oando as one of the companies through which Mr Henry Imasekha, a known Ibori associate and fugitive was moving funds for his principal, Mr Ibori. Yet in its defence, ECP falsely claimed that:
“The EFCC affidavit was not made public until many months after ECP’s first investment in Oando which occurred in November 2007. Therefore ECP was not in a position to have known about the affidavit or its content at the time it invested in Oando.”
This statement by ECP is self-evidently false. The 30th October 2007 affidavit was reported on and available in print and electronic formats from 31st October 2007 onwards, e.g. by (amongst others):
• Sahara Reporters on October 31 2007.
• This Day a prominent Nigerian newspaper in its 31st October 2007 edition
• Africa News a prominent Nigerian news website on 31st October 2007
• Tell, a prominent Nigerian weekly in its November 23rd 2007 edition.
ECP had the requisite knowledge and knew or ought to have known about the connection with fraud. Also, both the investment and the subsequent attempt at a cover-up were acts or omissions, including a misrepresentation that knowingly or recklessly misled, or attempts to mislead, either to obtain a benefit or to avoid an obligation, i.e. a fraudulent practice.
ECP was either aware or should have been aware of the allegations surrounding its investee company Oando before investments were made. Poor due diligence is no excuse for making investments that ECP should be expected not to have made if they were aware of the allegations.