Nigerian executive testifies he gave cash to William Jefferson
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday June 24, 2009, 9:55 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- A former Nigerian telecommunications executive testified Wednesday that his former business partners delivered $100,000 to then-Rep. William Jefferson after the Democratic congressman requested a percentage of profits and revenue in a joint venture with a Kentucky technology company he was promoting.
Dumebi Kachikwu, a part-owner of Nigeria Digital Television when Jefferson was trying to broker a deal between the company and Louisville-based iGate Inc., delivered the most damaging testimony yet in the trial, now in its third week, in which Jefferson faces charges of bribery, racketeering and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Jefferson's attorneys are expected to cross-examine Kachikwu when the trial resumes today.
Kachikwu said he initially told Jefferson in 2002 that the stake in the company or share in the profits he was seeking in NDTV was out of the question.
Kachikwu said Jefferson was then offered a deal in which he would give him $5 for each of the converter boxes that iGate provided to unscramble cable-TV signals for NDTV. Kachikwu said that would initially mean 200,000 boxes, but the business plan called for 1 million to 2 million boxes within the first two years, meaning a potential windfall of $1 million, with the addition of $5 million to $10 million more.
He said Jefferson found that acceptable.
But returning to the stand after the lunch recess, Kachikwu said that Jefferson subsequently said he wanted more, including a percentage of profits and revenue in entities being developed with iGate Inc. He and his two NDTV partners went along. In a written document entered as an exhibit, Jefferson represents that it was Kachikwu's partners who suggested the more generous offering, but Kachikwu said it was all Jefferson's idea.
Kachikwu said his two partners ultimately traveled to the United States and delivered $100,000 to Jefferson.
Kachikwu said Jefferson told him afterward that "they (his business partners) gave me a nice gift."
The payment alleged by Kachikwu is not the $100,000 in cash, provided and marked by the FBI, that Virginia businesswoman Lori Mody delivered to Jefferson on July 30, 2005. According to the prosecution, that money was to be delivered as a bribe to Atiku Abubakar, then vice president of Nigeria. All but $10,000 of that money famously ended up in Jefferson's freezer when the FBI raided his home a few days later. The NDTV deal had fallen through long before then. The company pulled out of the deal, sending a letter to Nigerian leaders accusing Jefferson of seeking illegal compensation.
Changed his mind
Kachikwu said he initially thought payments for Jefferson were fair because he had brought all the parties together. But he said he began to change his mind after Jefferson asked him to form a company in Nigeria in the name of Jefferson's daughter or daughters to accept the NDTV payments, indicating to him that Jefferson didn't want the money linked to him.
He testified that Jefferson said he could be of great help in getting the telecommunications deal with iGate done because the then-president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, "owed him a favor." Kachikwu said Jefferson said he had been instrumental in getting Nigeria off a list of countries identified as a serious source of illegal drug trafficking.
Kachikwu also testified that Jefferson encouraged NDTV officials to pay consulting fees to Maureen Scurry, then an employee of the Export-Import Bank. He said Jefferson urged them to "work with her on the side" because she could facilitate affordable financing for their projects.
Scurry was indicted in February on charges of accepting a $100,000 bribe from the company.
Neither Jefferson's alleged role in encouraging NDTV to make a payment to Scurry, nor the allegation that he received a cash bribe from the Nigerian firm, is mentioned in the 16-count indictment filed in June 2007.
Dane Ciolino, a law professor at Loyola University, and Harry Rosenberg, an attorney and former U.S. attorney in New Orleans, said Judge T.S. Ellis III is allowing the jury to hear about the new allegations even though they aren't listed in the indictment because the alleged misconduct is related to some of the corruption charges.
Deal finally fell apart
According to earlier testimony, Kachikwu was unable to travel to the United States in 2002 and 2003 to meet with Jefferson and iGate CEO Vernon Jackson because of visa problems. But he testified Wednesday that he has been living in the Maryland suburb of North Potomac for the past two years, indicating he may have received help with his immigration status from the Justice Department.
On Tuesday, iGate CEO Vernon Jackson wrapped up five days of testimony that he had been providing payments -- he called them bribes -- to a company controlled by Jefferson's wife, Andrea, in order to get the congressman's help with the Nigerian telecommunications projects. That suggests the then-congressman was seeking payments from both parties in the Nigerian telecommunications deal, which ultimately fell apart after word of the federal investigation of Jefferson became public Aug. 3, 2005.
Kachikwu testified that he first met Jefferson in 2001 during an African economic summit in Nigeria and that Jefferson offered that his relationship with iGate and its technology would enable the company to provide cable and Internet services at far less cost than European satellite TV firms being considered by NDTV. Jefferson said the satellite companies "were ripping off" African businesses with exorbitant prices.
Kachikwu also testified that Abubakar was a secret 10 percent owner of his company. At the time, the vice president oversaw privatization efforts in Nigeria, including the telecommunications networks.
Edward Weidenfeld, Abubakar's Washington lawyer, said it's "not true" that his client had any ownership stake in NDTV.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.383.7861.