The William Jefferson Chronicles

Africa: Ex-U.S. Lawmaker, Jefferson, Convicted of Bribery
Habib Aruna And Rafiu Ajakaye

Lagos — Former United States lawmaker, William Jefferson, has been convicted of 11 of 16 charges of money laundering and bribery, and faces up to 150 years imprisonment and likely forfeiture of alleged proceeds from sleaze.

Jefferson's link with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar formed part of the grounds upon which Aso Rock plotted his fall in the heat of the swordfight between him and former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Atiku was accused of taking bribe from Jefferson in turn for juicy contracts in Nigeria a charge he denied but which nearly derailed his Presidential ambition.

The 2007 raid on Jefferson's home worsened Atiku's case with the establishment, with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) latching partly onto it to disqualify him from running for President - a move thwarted by the courts and public opinion.

A letter Jefferson wrote to Atiku - in which he sought Atiku's support for a contract with Nigeria Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) - was reportedly found in the latter's home in the U.S. by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Atiku has continued to deny any wrong doing or intent to collect bribes as alleged.

He did not deny being Jefferson 's friend, but the FBI's raid was to ascertain Atiku's role in the bribery scandal.

The U.S. court did not mention Atiku's name in the mess, either, an apparent source of justification for the man who defected to the Action Congress (AC) at the peak of his personality clash with Obasanjo, with whom he has since reconciled.

Atiku reiterated on Thursday that he has been vindicated, as the U.S. Government was unable to prove a bribe scheme involving him, "because none ever existed."

A statement issued by his media office in Abuja noted that he "was another victim of Jefferson's scheming. Under the Corrupt Foreign Practices Act, and in accordance with the Judge's instructions, the jury could have found Jefferson guilty of violating the Act merely by making an offer of payment to Atiku.

"The money (found) in the freezer (in Jefferson's home) spoke for itself - this case has nothing to do with Atiku.

"I have consistently maintained that I had no improper relationship with Jefferson. My relationship with him was purely official and it was in an effort to attract foreign investors to Nigeria.

"(He) was Chairman of the House Committee on Nigeria and the request to meet him came from the Nigerian embassy. His proposal for investment in the Nigerian communications sector was passed to the Minister of Communications.

"I am glad that the judgment has confirmed that I had no improper relationship with him. God has shamed the devil and cleared the innocent.

"The judgment has also finally unraveled one of the biggest conspiracies in Nigeria's political history: the plot to humiliate me and to stop me from contesting the 2007 Presidential election.

"It is now clear that the plot was hatched at the highest level of the Nigerian Government then in collusion with foreign agencies. The plot was not just to stop me from running for the Presidency; it was aimed at denying the Nigerian people the right to choose their own leaders."

Jefferson, who was caught with $90,000 in cash in his freezer, was found guilty late Wednesday.

He was accused in 2007 of soliciting millions of Dollars in bribes from a dozen companies while using his office to broker business deals in Africa.

Aside the jail term, he could face forfeiture of payments totalling $456,000, plus stock certificates, according to a Spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Virginia, where he was tried.

But Jefferson can appeal his conviction. He was not taken into custody.

When he was first charged, he acknowledged he had made unspecified mistakes in judgment that he regretted, but denied selling his office or trading official acts for money.

He also challenged the indictment, arguing that it unconstitutionally infringed on his privileges as a lawmaker. But the courts held that the grand jury did not improperly consider any legislative material.

Jefferson faced 16 counts of racketeering, soliciting bribes, fraud, money laundering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The business ventures included telecommunications deals in Nigeria and Ghana, oil concessions in Equatorial Guinea, satellite transmission contracts in Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo, and a Nigerian sugar plant.

The guilty verdict was returned by a federal jury in Alexandria, Virginia . He faces up to 20 years in prison on each count.

The jury was to reconvene on Thursday to consider forcing Jefferson to forfeit payments of $456,000 plus stock.

"We have been reminded today that we are a nation of laws, and not men," said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "It should be a clear signal that no public official, and certainly not a U.S. Congressman, can put their office up for sale."
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Jefferson, 62, was accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of Dollars in bribes and unlawfully using his office to seek millions more, mainly by promoting business deals in Africa. Prosecutors claimed he was involved in 11 separate bribery schemes from August 2000 to August 2005. He was videotaped in July 2005 accepting $100,000 in a leather briefcase at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, and putting it in his car.

The video was shown to the jury during trial. Jefferson allegedly told a witness that the money, which he referred to as "African art," would be used to bribe a high-ranking Nigerian Government official. He did not mention Atiku. The jury returned not guilty verdicts on five counts, including obstruction of justice. Others involved in the schemes included Vernon Jackson, a Louisville, Kentucky, businessman sentenced to 87 months in prison in September 2006 after pleading guilty to charges, including paying bribes to a public official, and Brett Pfeffer, a former Jefferson Congressional staff member sentenced to 96 months in prison in May 2006 after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy.

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