- Category: GENERAL
- Published on Thursday, 21 June 2012 11:54
- Written by Elombah.com
The Nigerian Ambassador to the US has admitted that the Nigerian Embassy accounts in the USA were closed by the US Authorities. In a statement by the Embassy and published on their website, Ambassador Adefuye said between three to four bank accounts belonging to the Embassy was affected.
The Embassy was reacting to elombah.com investigative reports that two American banks in an unprecedented investigation for money laundering and other financial crimes froze two bank accounts belonging to the Nigerian Embassy in the United States; Elombah.com also said that the extension of the probe to the M & T Bank account is a sign of a troubling escalation of the US authorities investigation of whether the Embassy uses their diplomatic access and Banks to launder money for Nigerian corrupt politicians.
According to the report, “Bank of America, M&T Bank and Wells Fargo was said to have received directive from the US government to close the accounts of the Nigerian embassy in Washington and its consulate in New York on suspicion of money laundering after traffic on the various accounts raised a red flag.”
But the Ambassador said that the reasons cited by the US authority for asking them to close the affected accounts were the PATRIOT’S ACT and said: “Like most African Embassies, it was difficult to find banks willing to cope with the strict compliance regulations as imposed by the PATRIOT’S ACT. Those African Embassies, including that of Nigeria which eventually found other banks, could only do so through American banks which had branches in their countries. This is what the Nigerian Embassies did with the active support of our Central Bank. We now do business with a bank that has branches in Nigeria. The Central Bank pays our allocation to the bank and missions operate it from here.”
While admitting that the Embassy has been facing problems banking in the U.S, because of the order for them to cease banking activities with three unnamed banks, the Ambassador denied that any of their accounts was frozen nor were they being investigated. The Ambassador also said “It is therefore patently wrong and grossly mischievous to allege that our Embassies and Consulates in Washington, DC, New York and Atlanta had their Accounts frozen by Wells Fargo and Bank of America. None of the Nigerian Embassies and Consulates in the U.S. had had any dealing whatsoever with either of these banks. Accounts that did not exist could not have been frozen.”
However, reacting to the statement from the Embassy, a former lawyer to the Embassy said the Ambassador is being economical with the truth. Speaking to Elombah.com, Mr Emeka Ugwuonye said it is highly unusual for the Embassy to blame the Patriot Act for their banking woes:
“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?” he asked.
The US based lawyer while decrying the Embassy statement as a ‘huge effort to disguise the truth and to be vague or dishonest’ said the Embassy mentioned problems in three American Banks, including M & T Bank but denies that the Embassy ever had accounts in these other banks asked 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?
Mr Ugwuonye said there is no reason on earth to fail to disclose such basic information as a mark of clean hands. “Such evasive behaviour will make it difficult for the people to suspend their commonsense and believe the Embassy of Nigeria”, he added.
Another commentator told elombah.com the Patriot Act is more than 10 years old, and therefore "If the embassy did not have a problem during the 9/11 hysteria then having a banking problem now is indicative of other underlining issues".
"If the embassy is using its accounts for the purposes it was set up, they will not have a ' Patriot Act' issue", he added.
"Because in the US the system works. If the embassy has money laundering issues sooner or later someone will be in handcuffs. If not they will have the use of their bank accounts for normal embassy business. No amount of spinning will change the facts", he concluded.
Other Nigerians say the present Ambassador is not the first Nigerian diplomat to use his diplomatic status to launder money for corrupt Nigerian politicians, 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 said.
"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."
US Attorney Emeka Ugwuonye also said: "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"
Read the full text of the Embassy statement here
Read Mr Emeka Ugwuonye’s reaction here