The William Jefferson Chronicles

Jefferson attorneys on global quest
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday December 31, 2008, 7:31 PM

WASHINGTON -- Attorneys for outgoing Rep. William Jefferson on Wednesday asked the judge in his bribery case for permission to use e-mail to help hunt down a key witness: one of the four wives of a former Nigerian vice president.

In the latest strange development in the Jefferson case, his attorneys said in a brief that they have been unable to deliver subpoenas to Jennifer Douglas Abubakar at her Potomac, Md., home or at her residence in Nigeria. Jennifer Abubakar in 2005 was listed as one of four wives to Nigeria's then-vice president, Atiku Abubakar.

Jefferson's attorneys said they have been told she is now "primarily based" in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, although they haven't gotten a specific address. Nor has there been any explanation about why she's living in Dubai.

Jennifer Abubakar's testimony is important, Jefferson's attorneys said, because prosecutors revealed that she testified before a federal grand jury that the New Orleans Democrat never talked to her about "his interest in paying her husband money."

Jefferson, who was charged by the grand jury in June 2007 in a 16-count federal corruption indictment, lost his bid for a 10th term in Congress to Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao on Dec. 6. He maintains his innocence.

In secretly taped conversations, the FBI said, Jefferson told a government informant in 2005 that Atiku Abubakar, then Nigeria's vice president, had demanded a $500,000 stake in the telecommunications project proposed by iGate Inc., a Kentucky company the Justice Department says Jefferson was helping in return for bribes to a family-owned company.

Jefferson later accepted a briefcase with $100,000 in cash from the informant, Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody, according to the FBI. When Mody asked whether he had delivered the money to Abubakar, he replied that he had given the vice president the "African art" and that Abubakar was "very pleased, " according to the FBI.

Most of the money, however, was later found in the freezer of Jefferson's Washington, D.C., home, but the government listed the Abubakars as unindicted co-conspirators.

The 2007 corruption indictment against Jefferson alleges that Jefferson communicated with Jennifer Abubakar about bribes to be paid to her husband. If she repeats her grand jury testimony that the two never discussed such payments, it would contradict a key government allegation, Jefferson's attorneys said.

Jennifer Abubakar, who holds joint U.S. and Nigerian citizenship, has signaled through her attorneys that she is willing to answer questions in Europe for depositions that could later be used at Jefferson's trial.

But the trial judge for the Jefferson case, T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, Va., rejected the idea after federal prosecutors expressed concern that there might not be legal remedies to the government if she committed perjury. Jefferson's attorneys are asking him to reconsider that ruling.

In their brief filed this week with Ellis, Jefferson's attorneys said the "government may argue that Mrs. Abubakar should not be allowed to choose when and where she will testify."

"But this case is not about Mrs. Abubakar; instead the issue here is Mr. Jefferson's right to mount an effective defense, " the attorneys said.

The brief does not make clear why it would be possible to find Abubakar by e-mail. It says they have been unable to find her address in Dubai.

Ellis has scheduled a status conference for Jan. 15, at which time he might set a trial date for Jefferson.

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