U.S. court ordered the FBI to seize about $1 million stolen by Senator Chimaroke Nnamani as part of massive looting of public funds he embarked upon days before leaving office as Enugu governor in 2007, court documents recently obtained by Peoples Gazette said.
Mr Nnamani, representing Enugu East Senatorial District, had stolen the funds from his impoverished state coffers and used proxies to wire-transfer them from Nigerian banks to bank accounts he fraudulently opened with AmSouth Bank in Orlando, Florida, according to forfeiture affidavits submitted by special agents of the FBI.
The previously unreported fraud cases were instituted against Mr Nnamani before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama barely days after he left office in May 2007 and wound up two years later in May 2009.
The FBI said Mr Nnamani, who was elected governor and sworn in as Nigeria returned to civil rule in May 1999, started looting Enugu treasury by the early aughts. Although the FBI and Nigerian anti-graft office EFCC seized property and cash assets laundered by Mr Nnamani in separate proceedings in the U.S. and Nigeria, respectively, both law enforcement authorities said they have yet to determine how much the Nigerian politician actually plundered from his state while its residents languished in poverty.
While the FBI was only able to trace about $41.8 million in stolen funds that Mr Nnamani laundered abroad, the EFCC successfully confiscated billions of naira from the Nigerian senator, who also carries American citizenship, including the N5.3 billion seized via a federal court order in July 2015.
From the latest documents obtained by The Gazette, American authorities said Mr Nnamani moved $961,184.27 in 21 tranches in the course of four days leading to his departure from Enugu State Government House as he concluded his two-term mandate due on May 29, 2007.
On March 15, 16, 21, and 30, 2007, Mr Nnamani pilfered the illicit funds through eight Nigerian banks, including Standard Chartered Bank, Fidelity Bank, Sterling Bank and since-defunct Platinum Habib Bank (PHB), to the U.S. AmSouth Bank (now Regions Bank), where Mr Nnamani had previously opened 20 accounts with Chinero Nwigwe, his sister and alleged co-conspirator.
Some of the 21 fraudulent transactions listed in the FBI complaint filed in October 2007 included $63,964 on March 15 from Platinum Habib Bank in Nigeria to AmSouth Bank account number 7966914620; $64,964 on March 15 from Platinum Habib Bank to AmSouth Bank account number 7966914620; $56,189 from Platinum Habib Bank to AmSouth Bank account number 7966914647 on March 15; $25,772 from Fidelity Bank to AmSouth Bank account 7966914655 on March 15; and $21,975 wired on March 21 from Sterling Bank to AmSouth Bank account 7966914728.
The FBI said nearly two dozen companies linked to Mr Nnamani were used to move the stolen funds, including Jasmine Group, Rock City Group, Hill Gate LLC, Parmon Oil and Gas Ltd, Boskel Nigeria Ltd, Rainbow Assoc. LLC, Tollman Allied Services, Capital Index Ltd, Universal-Sodexho Nigeria Ltd, Intecon Partnership Ltd, The Ferguson Group LLC, Elizabeth Group LLC.
“It is unlikely that Chimaroke Nnamani possesses an adequate source of legitimate income to account for the acquisition of the defendant funds,” the FBI said, adding that “additional investigation has failed to identify a legitimate source of income for Chinero Nwigwe to account for the transfer of funds alleged herein.”
“The defendant funds held on deposit in the twenty named bank accounts are the subjects of, or otherwise were involved in numerous financial transactions conducted by, or at the direction of Chimaroke Nnamani for the purpose of concealing or disguising the nature, the location, the source, the ownership or the control of the proceeds of “specified unlawful activity” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(B)1(1).
“Therefore, the defendant funds are subject to forfeiture to the United States of America pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 981(a)(1)(A),” the FBI further stated in its affidavit.
When it became apparent that the Nigerian politician’s legitimate earnings could not account for the millions of dollars in his possession after a drawn forfeiture proceeding that spanned about two years, Judge William Acker issued a consolidated ruling ordering the seizure of the illicit funds as well as forfeitures of Mr Nnamani’s assets to the U.S. government on May 13, 2009.
It has been reported on Tuesday by Gazette, the forfeiture of the Nigerian politician’s lush Heathrow, Florida, residence, which he purchased with $1.8 million cash after stealing and laundering $41.8 million from the southeast Nigeria state’s coffers.
Mr Nnamani, who has recently branded himself as a moral, responsible leader devoid of the corrupt behaviour that has long been typical of a Nigerian politician, did not respond to The Gazette’s request for comments regarding his unreported U.S. corruption case, which came days after he was named a senior member of Bola Tinubu’s presidential campaign council.
Despite the fact that his criminal records were preserved in the records of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, Mr Nnamani on Tuesday sponsored a statement across several Nigerian newspapers, claiming no such case existed and that the report came from “political foes and professional blackmailers.”
Despite failing to show any evidence of his claims, Mr Nnamani managed to induce at least a dozen Nigerian reporters with cash bribes to promptly circulate his falsehood across their media outlets, marking yet another manifestation of the brown envelope menace that has plagued the country’s media space for decades.
It was unclear why the Nigerian government did not seek repatriation of the multimillion-dollar cash and asset forfeitures of Mr Nnamani’s loot from the U.S. government to the people of Enugu, who could use the funds if tied to education, health or other human development projects. A spokesman for Attorney-General Abubakar Malami, whose office chases return of stolen funds stashed abroad, did not return a request seeking comments.