A New York apartment hurriedly purchased by a shoddy company registered in the American state of Delaware is raising fresh questions over the circumstances leading to the conferment of diplomatic status on Nigeria’s former petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, by the Commonwealth of Dominica.
The revelation first emerged in “Diplomats for Sale”, a 53-minute feature by Qatari international broadcaster, Al Jazeera.
PREMIUM TIMES has obtained additional details regarding the controversial relationship and probable reason why Mrs Allison-Madueke is yet to be extradited to face trial, despite efforts by Nigeria’s anticorruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Mrs Alison-Madueke, a powerful member of the Goodluck Jonathan administration, is being investigated by Nigerian and British authorities over alleged money laundering and corruption cases.
She was first appointed into the cabinet by former President Umaru Yar’Adua. Upon Mr. Yar’Adua’s death in 2010, President Jonathan appointed Mrs. Alison-Madueke to the Petroleum Ministry.
Mrs Alison-Madueke was seen as perhaps the most powerful minister under the Jonathan administration, and her tenure was tainted with widespread allegation of corruption.
The International Corruption Unit (ICU) of British National Crimes Agency (NCA) arrested Mrs Alison-Madueke and four others on October 2, 2015.
The UK authorities said the arrest was part of an investigation into a case of bribery and money laundering which was started in 2013 when Mrs Alison-Madueke was in office.
In Nigeria, the anti-corruption agency, the EFCC, has filed a number of actions against the former minister.
Mrs Alison-Madueke was famously fingered as the person behind a $20 billion slush fund investigators said was used to fund the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan and bribe electoral officers in 2015.
A number of officials of the electoral body, INEC, have been convicted for receiving cuts from the money.
A diplomatic status for Diezani
On May 23, 2015, while still in her position as Nigeria’s petroleum minister, Mrs Alison-Madueke met Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit in London.
Mr Skerrit came to the London meeting with two things—a Dominican diplomatic passport for Mrs Alison-Madueke and an appointment letter for the Nigerian minister as Trade and Investment Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Dominica.
Issued on May 21, 2015, the diplomatic passport is expected to expire on May 20, 2020.
Though the Nigerian constitution does not bar citizens from taking another nationality, or for those with dual citizenship to hold public offices, a legal practitioner, Dija Hashim, said the propriety of taking such citizenship while still in office is in question.
Ms Hashim described as greater infraction taking up another country’s assignment when one was still serving in another’s official position.
The ‘benefits’ for Mrs Alison-Madueke
Diplomatic passports confer bearers a number of benefits and privileges, from mundane courtesies to more serious protections.
PREMIUM TIMES could not establish if Mrs Alison-Madueke assumed the status conferred on her
“A diplomatic passport gives diplomatic immunity,” says Habib Habu, a retired diplomat, citing provisions of the Vienna Convention of 1963.
He said even those outside their countries of posting can benefit from privileged immunity, which a country may confer out of courtesy.
The Al Jazeera investigators say a passport “could shield her from criminal charges”.
It is unclear if Mrs Alison-Madueke has her Dominican diplomatic status in fighting her legal battle in the UK. But if she did, it could confer certain privileges that can hamper the cases, according to legal and diplomatic experts.
The EFCC has grumbled over the slow pace of Mrs Alison-Madueke’s investigation in the UK and her planned extradition.
It is not immediately clear if the slow pace has anything to do with her status, her lawyers could not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ enquiry on this.
The EFCC in a statement in March said it was baffling that after four years, the former minister had still not had her day in court.
“We are intent on bringing Diezani to justice and despite the spirited efforts of the commission in ensuring that she returns to Nigeria and face trial, she has been held back in the UK by an investigation that has spanned almost four years without any signal about when she will be available in Nigeria for prosecution.
“The EFCC has been frustrated over Diezani, a development that prompted it to seek her extradition to Nigeria, so that she can have her day in court.”
It is unclear how Mrs Alison-Madueke developed a relationship with the Dominican Prime Minister, Mr Skerrit. But it is common for official and unofficial agents to broker a deal for such relationships.
Dominican government is known to grant citizenship to persons from around the world in exchange of investment in the Caribbean nation. The initiative is, however, a subject of huge controversy.
Mr Skerrit is known for cosying up with controversial persons around the world and is fingered in a money-for-diplomatic passport racket by a recent Al Jazeera investigation.
In the film, Al Jazeera Investigations Unit got evidence of the country’s trading off its diplomatic positions to persons who can pay their way.
In a secret filming, a former prime minister of Dominica, Oliver Seraphin, was shown negotiating for such a deal. He agreed to broker a deal for a passport at $470,000, with $400,000 going to the prime minister.
Mr Seraphin confessed to how Mr Skerrit use monies from similar corrupt deals to oil his political machine back home.
A house for the Skerrits?
Four days after the meeting between Mrs Alison-Madueke and the Dominican prime minister, a company called Poros Holdings LLC was formed in Delaware, on May 27, 2015.
Not many details about the company are known as the American state is known for its corporate secrecy, making it a preferred destination of shoddy businesses.
Curiously, the company paid for the apartment in upscale Long Island without recourse to any mortgage.
Evidence shows that the prime minister’s wife had it registered. PREMIUM TIMES also obtained pictures of the Skerrit’s in the apartment.
Mr Skerrit confirmed use of the apartment by his wife “for mailing purposes” as he denied ownership of the house.
“Mere residence is however not proof of ownership as I could also have occupied the apartment on a rental basis,” he wrote in an email to Al Jazeera.
Mr Skerrit, who is facing re-election threatened to sue Al Jazeera after the release of the documentary.
No link with firm, apartment says lawyers
Mrs Alison-Madueke’s lawyers, CSL, have not responded to PREMIUM TIMES’ emailed inquiry on the matter, which was first sent on November 24, and a reminder sent days later.
But in a response to Al Jazeera, the lawyers denied that the company was linked to Mrs Alison-Madueke, but confirmed her holding of Dominican diplomatic passport. The lawyers also said the ex-minister earns nothing for her appointment.
The Dominican prime minister claims the passport was issued “after due diligence” and before corruption allegations against the former minister become public.