- Category: Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye Esq.
- Published on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 23:53
- Written by Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye
My attention has been drawn to the statement from the Embassy of Nigeria in Washington today, and published on Elombah.com denying, in one half and admitting in another half, the allegations about the banking problems and investigation for financial crimes that have been making the rounds since the past two weeks. As a Nigerian, I would
be happy if it were true that the problems we read about were as light as the Embassy is making them appear. But my happiness and patriotism cannot be celebrated at the expense of truth and logic. The statement of the Embassy is remarkable only in the context of its failure to state the truth. This is evidenced by so many contradictions, which are better itemized for facilitate understanding:
(1) Why did it take the Embassy of Nigeria more than two weeks since the story came out before it would respond to what it now calls malicious allegations intended to malign the integrity of the leadership of the Nigerian Foreign Mission in the US? The length of time it took the Embassy to respond can only be justified by a need for the Nigerian Embassy officials to meet, confer and strategize on how to repackage the truth and underplay the seriousness of the problems they face. Otherwise, they would have put out this statement sooner.
(2) It is noted that the Embassy blamed the much-played down version of the problems on the need for them to comply with the Patriot Act of the United States. The fact shows, however, that the Patriot Act has been in existence since 2002. Why would it take ten years for it to become a banking problem for the African Foreign Missions in the United States? Indeed, the official record would show that: “On May 26, 2011, Congress passed a four-year extension of three expiring Patriot Act provisions without making much-needed changes to the overly broad surveillance bill.” http://www.aclu.org/reform-patriot-act If so, how could the Nigerian Embassy expect the world to believe that the old Patriot Act should be giving them new problems ten years after it was enacted into law in the United States?
(3) As the Embassy statement puts it, it would appear that this is only a problem of regulatory compliance for the US banks. If that were the case, the American banks would seem to have known how to address these problems or guide their important clients such as the Foreign Missions from an entire continent. It is not consistent with the efficiency and sophistication of American banks for them to be struggling with these problems at the risk of losing important clients.
(4) If the Patriot Act and terrorism financing were truly the problems for the crisis the Embassy of Nigeria is facing, why would that affect African countries more than it affects the Middle Eastern Countries? When did terrorism become greater concern for Africans than for the Middle East? Again the statement by the Embassy flies in the face of logic and history.
(5) Further, it is highly unusual that such a problem could be a unique problem for one continent. There is nothing unique or common among African countries to bunch them exactly into a single category for this of problem. If you see it from security and terrorism concerns, all African countries are not in the same category. If you see if from technological advancement alone, all Africans are not in the same category. If you see it from crime and money laundering concerns, there will still be no need to throw all African countries into the same basket. There is hardly any justification to place all African countries in the same footing simply over compliance with banking regulations. The explanation by the Embassy is thus highly untenable. If it was true that other African countries faced the same problems, why would Nigeria be singled out for the allegations on the press? And how come that only the Embassy of Nigeria is capable of knowing that other African countries faced the same problems? Wouldn’t that have been a matter of common knowledge available to the general public?
(6) Even in the statement by the Embassy of Nigeria, huge effort was made to disguise the truth and to be vague or dishonest. For instance, the reports mentioned problems in three American Banks, including M & T Bank. The Embassy statement denies that the Embassy ever had accounts in these banks. Yet, it is certain that the Embassy had 3 accounts in M & T Bank alone. To clear the air and be seen to be even-handed, why did the Embassy not state the banks where the Embassy had accounts, if different from the ones alleged. After all, the statement admitted that the accounts were closed (just that the reason for the closure was different). In the same vein, why did the Embassy not indicate the new bank to which their accounts were forced to migrate? There is no reason on earth to fail to disclose such basic information as a mark of clean hands. Such evasive behavior will make it difficult for the people to suspend their commonsense and believe the Embassy of Nigeria.
(7) Contrary to the statement of the Embassy, certain facts about the Embassy of Nigeria and its unique (not African-wide) problems are well known. For instance, there have been highly unusual movements of funds into and out of the accounts operated by the Embassy. When compared with the periods going back 5 years, the amounts coming into the accounts and moving from the accounts are without precedent in figures and frequency. At the same time, there were some questions as to the purpose of the funds movement. Embassy bills are still not being paid. Some of the vendors who were owed by the Embassy must have reported the Embassy to the US State Department seeking assistance in getting the Embassy to pay. The picture painted by the Embassy for not paying its vendors has been that it did not have money. The conclusion must have been that the money coming into the Embassy accounts were not being used for the Embassy purposes. That sort of pattern of behavior triggers suspicion.
(8) It is credible that in a matter of time, the Embassy would come under investigation for money laundering activities. Either that the State Department unsure of the Embassy's inability to pay vendors initiated that investigation or that the Treasury Department concerned about irregular movements of funds contacted the State Department forcing them to look into the Embassy banking. To admit on one hand that there is problem, and turn around and deny such problems seems too characteristic of Nigerian government officials.
(9) It is probably believed justifiably by the US authorities that some politicians in Nigeria have been using the Embassy Accounts to avoid having to carry cash when traveling to the United States. It is confirmed that this has been a huge problem for some time in the past. Nigerian officials would arrive in the United States with very large amounts of money. And sometimes, they would fail to declare this money, leading to very highly embarrassing situations, which would involve the Embassy immediately. This was one of the most frequent problems that caused the Embassy to call its lawyers for help so many times in the past. In one case, one Minister was caught at the airport with undeclared cash three times in a single year. In some cases, the Nigerian officials would rather forfeit the cash than to fill out the paperwork or appear to explain the origin of the funds. The officials, when caught at the airport would call the Ambassador, who would then call the lawyer. But throughout the time, despite the headache that used to cause the Embassy, the Embassy never thought of providing its Bank accounts to be used by these people as a way to avoid this problem.
(10) It would seem that what Ambassador Adefuye did differently from his predecessors was that he devised a way for these officials to simply wire the money into the Embassy accounts. They then arrive in the US with little or no cash. After arrival, they notify the Ambassador who withdraws the money that was wired into the Embassy account by the official's account in Nigeria, and he hands it over to the official or his family. And it is believed the Ambassador would sometimes keep up to 10% of the funds as his cut of the deal. Apparently without understanding the implications of this practice, it became, to them, a brilliant way to overcome a serious problem. Indeed, according to sources within the Embassy, this has been a very highly lucrative business both for the Ambassador and the Nigerian officials. Indeed, Ambassador has been gladly recommending this facility to some Nigerian officials coming to the United States. This appeared as an ingenious program for Adefuye. He was getting astonishing amounts of money from the Governors, Ministers and even some business people. In a way, it has worked. Nigerian officials are no longer being caught with undeclared funds at the airport as used to be the case before Adefuye came to Washington. Such is hardly the problem of Africa as a whole.
(11) Also, it is known that Nigerian Governors have used it, and they actually pay the Ambassador well. The Governors find this very useful, especially with the kind of problems Governor Dariye of Plateau and some other Governors had in London. The Governors don't want to carry cash any more. So, moving money through the Embassy accounts appears to be a risk-free alternative. But this is naive. The fact that the Embassy enjoys immunity never meant that the host country is not concerned about such behavior. US is quite concerned and has been dealing with the matter rather seriously. Again, this seems to be a uniquely Nigerian problem, and not the problem of African countries. And it is silly to argue that the Americans do not know how to separate Nigeria from of other African countries when it comes to stopping such abuses. Why would other African countries be punished for Nigerian headache, as the Nigerian Embassy wants the world to believe?
(12) Now, this is where the confusion is: What is the purpose any investigation? They need not be a criminal investigation against the Nigerian Ambassador. He enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution. However, the investigation may be just for the purpose of gathering information for regulatory compliance purposes, which has been partially admitted by the Embassy statement. Also, since those Nigerian officials who use the Embassy accounts as their personal banking do not have immunities and may have violated United States laws that require declaration of funds brought into the United States and are the targets of the investigation. Also, it is entirely possible that the US authorities are investigating the US banks to know if they were aware of what the Nigerian Embassy has been up and if they violated the rule by not stopping it.
(13) In my opinion, based on the diplomatic laws, the Americans would not conduct direct criminal investigation into an Embassy account. They would focus on those involved who are not diplomats. However, once the banks come under investigation for their handling of accounts, the bank would be required to put such accounts on hold pending investigation. And the banks can force a troublesome client like Nigerian Embassy and its Ambassador to close the accounts. US would achieve the same effect by simply going after the banks and leaving the banks to go after the Embassy of Nigeria and any other problematic Embassy, if at all there is any other. That way, it would fall into the commercial exception to the diplomatic immunity. That is to say: No Embassy can invoke diplomatic immunity against the actions of a bank relative to an account lodged with such bank because the relationship between a bank and its customer is a commercial relationship.
(14) The concerns about the Embassy finances have been a long-standing problem. It had always been there to some minor degree. But it took alarming dimensions toward the end of 2010, a few months after Ambassador Adefuye arrived in Washington. My absence from Washington most of 2011 was a big relief to Ambassador Adefuye because we didn't get along right from the day he arrived in Washington and he knew I would not protect him in any investigation. However, the investigation did not end as fast as he had expected. I came back to meet it. There is still need to keep me quiet. If the Embassy is not facing a serious investigation, what is the overriding need to have me gagged by the court? Why is it that the Embassy does not want anyone to know what happened behind the pretentious faces they put up?
(15) Finally, why did the Embassy chose to issue just a paper statement? A proper way would have been for the Ambassador to invite the leaders of the Nigerian Diaspora communities and address them in the presence of the press, and allow a question-and-answer session? If Ambassador Adefuye is honest about his denials, why can’t he call a press conference and why can’t he meet with the people? Anywhere else in the world, the Ambassador would do more than just sending out some feeble and vague denials. He would meet the people and look them in the faces and take questions from them. But Ambassador Adefuye is a coward. He is hiding from the people. He does not want to face the truth. The only thing he wants is for the people to just believe him. He wants a people that cannot think. But I don’t think he will get it. The people must reject this lame and lazy attempt to fool Nigerians.
STATEMENT BY NIGERIAN EMBASSY:
EMEKA UGWUONYE REACTS
June 20, 2012