Britain Charges Nigerian Governor with Money Laundering

British authorities charged a Nigerian governor with money laundering, but he escaped disguised as a woman and returned to Nigeria. The case is tarnishing the vow by Nigeria's president to curb theft of public resources by some state governors. Steve Inskeep talks to Financial Times reporter Dino Mahtani.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Just down the coast from Liberia you'll find a string of countries that are increasingly important energy suppliers to the United States. The biggest is Nigeria where the big operators include Exxon, Shell and Chevron. Billions of American dollars pour into that country where much of it has been stolen over the years by successive governments. With international help, Nigeria's national government is now campaigning to improve the country's corrupt image. That helps to explain how the governor of a Nigerian oil-producing state found himself arrested as he traveled through London. He was accused of money laundering. What's a little harder to explain is how that same governor, skipped bail, fled Britain and surfaced in his home country. We're going to try to unravel this with Dino Mahtani of The Financial Times. He's in Lagos, Nigeria. And Mr. Mahtani, this governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, was under investigation by Nigerians. So how did he end up arrested in Britain in the first place?

Mr. DINO MAHTANI (The Financial Times): Well, the irony about Nigeria's anti-corruption drive is that it's focusing on many of the top officials in the Nigerian government, particularly Nigeria's 36 governors who enjoy constitutional immunity from prosecution in their own country. So one of the strategies being employed now by the Nigerian government is to work alongside police in foreign countries, particularly the UK, which has been a key backer of the Obasanjo administration and its efforts to tackle corruption.

INSKEEP: So now, he was traveling abroad. As I understand it, he was traveling for plastic surgery. He surrendered his passport to British authorities. How did the governor get back home?

Mr. MAHTANI: Well, he's not the first Nigerian governor to have skipped bail in the UK. Last year, Joshua Dariye, of Plateau State, also skipped bail where he's bee, you know, under investigation in the UK for money laundering as well. The Nigerian press were full of reports that Dariye had come back on a Ghanaian passport. What we're hearing about Alamieyeseigha is that he dressed up as a woman to avoid detection. Ad the Nigerian anti-corruption agency here is saying that he forged documents and somehow managed to slip back into the country unnoticed.

INSKEEP: So now that he's back in his home country, is he safe from prosecution?

Mr. MAHTANI: Yes, that's right, and his spokespeople say that he's back in his office, and the constitutional immunity that he enjoys is being applied.

INSKEEP: Now Mr. Mahtani, I have to ask you, this governor is an ethnic nationalist in an area with a lot of ethnic trouble, an oil-producing area that's extremely important to the United States. What does this case suggest about the stability of Nigeria?

Mr. MAHTANI: Well, what it shows is that the anti-corruption drive is very politically selective. Mr. Alimiasega was, as you say, an ethnic nationalist. He's also a key ally of Nigeria's vice president who's been at odds with the president himself. So critics of the anti-corruption drive would tell you that, yes, they're trying to crack down on corruption, but they're picking people who are very much at odds with the president's own agenda.

INSKEEP: We've been talking to Dino Mahtani, a Financial Times reporter in Lagos, Nigeria. Thanks very much.

Mr. MAHTANI: Thank you.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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