Americans Helped Corrupt African Leaders Spend Their Money In the U.S.

13 February 2010

By Noel Brinkerhoff

For some Americans it’s no questions asked. Bring your millions of dollars looted from foreign treasuries and spend lavishly in the United States, or simply stuff it into domestic bank accounts, including bundles of cash smuggled in on the persons of world leaders.

The U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations latest report (Keeping Foreign Corruption Out of the United States: Four Case Histories) details the lives of rich African despots who have funneled huge sums into the country, all with the help of morally-flexible Americans.

There’s Omar Bongo, president of Gabon, who was aided by lobbyist Jeffrey Birrell in his purchase of American-built armored vehicles and military cargo aircraft, and who stashed more than $100 million into offshore shell companies. Bongo also transported $1 million into the U.S., right past customs, by using his diplomatic status and gave it to his daughter for her to deposit into an American bank.

Another American, Jennifer Douglas, helped her husband, Atiku Abubakar, former vice president of Nigeria, smuggle “$40 million in suspect funds into the United States, through wire transfers sent by offshore corporations to U.S. bank accounts,” according to the committee report. The Securities and Exchange Commission has accused Douglas of taking $2 million in bribes from Siemens AG, a major German corporation. Douglas eventually pled guilty to criminal charges and settled a lawsuit stemming from the bribery charges.

The tales of corruption go beyond involvement of individual Americans and even implicate upstanding institutions of higher learning. American University in Washington, DC, reportedly accepted $14 million over a five-year period from Abubakar through two offshore corporations for consulting that helped develop a Nigerian university. University officials never asked about the source of the funds, telling committee investigators it wasn’t required under the law.

Senate Report Finds U.S. Banks Support Corrupt Regimes Through Offshore Accounts

American banks, real estate and law firms have been assisting foreign governments to hide or launder stolen money, according to an investigation by a U.S. Senate committee. Even though federal law requires financial institutions to reject so-called “dirty money,” some banks have continued to accept funds from offshore accounts that were used to buy homes and other property.

A report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs revealed illegal transactions committed by HSBC, which has a subsidiary in the U.S. The report also cites other illicit deals, such as those involving two American lawyers who were hired by the son of the president of Equatorial Guinea to create American shell companies in order to open bank accounts for them. The attorneys then used $30 million that was transferred from the oil-rich West African country to buy a luxurious residence in Malibu, California, for Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue.

Other transactions involved sending $73 million from Obiang’s bank in Equatorial Guinea to Wachovia Bank, which then transferred funds to Bank of America in Oklahoma City. Citibank also was used to move another $37 million.



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