The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has frozen a £10million worth of London property allegedly bought for Diezani Alison-Madueke as investigations into the case against the former minister unravels by the day.
Two properties at Regents Park in London, along with one in Buckinghamshire, have now been frozen based on the request of Nigerian authorities.
A London court gave the frozen order in September 2016 but details of the rulings have only recently become public.
But the agency was too late in preventing a further two properties worth £8m from being sold.
In July, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed four properties it alleged were bought for the former petroleum minister by individuals and firms seeking her influence in obtaining lucrative oil asset and crude oil lifting contracts.
Some of the oil asset were assigned to people believed to be her cronies through controversial Strategic Alliance Agreements.
The DoJ’s affidavit stated that businessmen Jide Omokore and Kola Aluko were involved in the purchase of two of the properties allegedly bought for Mrs. Alison-Madueke.
The UK order obtained by journalists at Africa Confidential has revealed that three of the properties have been frozen under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Apart from Mrs. Alison-Madueke, Mr. Omokore and Mr. Aluko, the order also named three other individuals as defendants in the case, all of whom are believed to have received contracts or oil asset from the NNPC during the embattled minister’s tenure.
They include Aiteo’s Chief Executive Officer, Benedict Peters, a jeweler named Christopher Aire, and a lawyer named Donald Amamgbo. All received contracts from the NNPC. The order forbids the defendants from disposing of or dealing in the properties.
But although the NCA has frozen three properties worth £10 million, the agency was too late to prevent a further two properties worth £8 million from being sold.
One of these, a massive nine-bedroom house in London’s exclusive Hampstead Garden Suburb, bought by a BVI company in January 2011 for £5,850,000- was sold in May 2015.
Similarly, the property at 39 Chester Close, one of the properties listed in the DoJ case, which was bought by Kola Aluko’s BVI based Mortlake Investments for £1.73 million, was sold in July 2015, months before the NCA initially arrested the former Minister.
UK estate agent, Daniel Ford & Co, assisted in the purchases of three of the properties, and UK solicitors firms, Addie & Co and Gordon’s Partnership, were conveyancers of the deals.
According to Corruption Watch, a UK NGO, investigators should look carefully at these organisations’ due diligence practices.
The order signals a step up in the UK’s investigation of the former minister, who was first arrested by the NCA in October 2015, when the agency confiscated her passport and £27,000 in cash found in her apartment.
However the extent of the evidence against the former minister and the other defendants remains unclear.
The September 2016 forfeiture proceeding of the properties was held in private, meaning that the evidence that the NCA presented to support the seizure is not accessible.
This evidence will be critical. Although Messrs Peters, Aire and Amamgbo all had lucrative contracts with the NNPC, and are all accused of lavish spending for Mrs Alison-Madueke, this alone will not be enough to secure criminal prosecutions against any of them, analysts say.
“In the U.S. and U.K., simply buying luxury items for a government official like Ms. Alison-Madueke isn’t against the law,” says Aaron Sayne, a Financial Investigator and Senior Governance Officer at the National Resource Governance Institute.
“Investigators have to link the money involved to a crime that happened in Nigeria. And if the crime is bribery, they must also show that the items purchased rewarded her for helping someone win a government contract. That’s not easy to prove, especially well enough to stand up in court.”
The DoJ’s case included transcripts of conversations in which the minister appears to admit her role in awarding the SAAs to Atlantic – but it is still unclear whether the UK has additional evidence relating to the contracts that Messrs. Amamgbo, Peters, and Aire received during Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s tenure.
Neither Donald Amamgbo and Christopher Aire had experience in the oil business when their newly minted trading firms picked up term contracts from the NNPC: Mr. Amamgbo was an attorney, Mr. Aire a jeweler.
And this practice of giving oil contracts to inexperienced firms picked for political connections has not ended, however.
“Patronage and self-enrichment are still the driving forces behind many sales,” according to Mr. Sayne, though he admits that the NNPC, has “sanitized some of its oil sales processes under President Buhari”.
SOLD: 39 Chester Close North- Bought by Kola Aluko’s BVI company, Mortlake Investments, in March 2011 for £1,730,000. Mrs. Alison-Madueke is alleged to have selected the stone flooring for the property in a renovation also led by Kola Aluko. The property was sold in July 2015, months before the NCA initially arrested the former Minister, for £2,800,000.
SOLD: Winnington Road
A massive nine bedroom property in Hampstead Garden Suburb – one of London’s most exclusive areas– was on the NCA’s list of properties to be frozen. However the property was sold in May 2015, before by the time the UK received a request from the Nigerian authorities to freeze the property. The property was bought by BVI company Hampstead Corporate Limited in January 2011 for £5,850,000.
The beneficial ownership of Hampstead Corporate, and its connection to the named defendants in the UK freezing order, is unknown.
FROZEN: The Falls, Buckinghamshire- Bought by Jide Omokore’s Seychellois company Miranda Investments for £3,250,000 in January 2011. Used UK law firm Addie & Co.
Mrs. Alison-Madueke was the only known resident of the property, and was addressed by the staff there as “the Madam”, according to the DoJ’s case, which also states that Kola Aluko engaged a construction company to upgrade the property. The property was briefly marketed by estate agent Brampton Partnership in August 2015.
FROZEN: Harley House- Bought by Seychellois company Rosewood Investments for £2,800,000 in March 2011, and now revealed to be beneficially owned by Aiteo Chief Executive Officer Benedict Peters.
Construction workers renovating Harley House over the summer of 2011 were introduced to Mrs. Alison-Madueke as “the architect”, and Kola Aluko, who was co-ordinating the renovation of Harley House in the summer of 2011, forwarded the plans for the apartment to the former minister.
The property is furnished with some of the $107,000 luxury furnishings bought for Mrs Alison-Madueke by Mr. Peters.
FROZEN: Park View – Bought by Seychelles company Colinwood Ltd, whose ownership is unknown, in March 2011 for £3,750,000. Used UK law firm Gordon’s.
According to the DoJ documents, the purchase was financed with a mortgage from the UK branch of FBN Bank, obtained by “co-conspirator #1” – who is believed to be Christopher Aire.
According to the DoJ’s case, Mr. Aluko co-ordinated renovations to Park View, and Mrs. Alison-Madueke met with the construction worker to discuss the renovations.