'Ruined' Nigerian executive calls for justice in William Jefferson corruption trial
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Thursday June 25, 2009, 10:30 PM
ALEXANDRIA, VA. -- A former Nigerian telecommunications executive told jurors Thursday that he decided to cooperate with an FBI investigation of former Rep. William Jefferson because he was "financially ruined" by his involvement with a Kentucky telecommunications firm Jefferson was promoting.
Dumebi Kachikwu, former part owner of Nigeria Digital Television, said he was so broke he couldn't pay his wife's college fees, and he "wanted some form of justice."
Kachikwu said he most looked forward "to sitting in this chair, " referring to the witness stand, and "testifying against the congressman."
Kachikwu said he had once worked closely with Jefferson, testifying that in May 2004, he had gotten information that authorities in Nigeria were prepared to arrest the congressman, who was in the country trying to resurrect the telecommunications project. Kachikwu said he learned the arrest was based on complaints from a fellow NDTV executive that Jefferson had sought bribes from the company.
Kachikwu said he drove the congressman and iGate CEO Vernon Jackson to the airport about 5:30 a.m. so they could leave the country earlier than planned and keep Jefferson from being imprisoned.
Thursday's session began with an announcement by Judge T.S. Ellis III that he had excused a female juror. He didn't say why, other than it was for a valid reason.
She was replaced by one of four alternates, also a woman.
Also testifying Thursday was Lester Pourciau, director of human resources at Southern University. He said the school has a policy dating to 1995 that requires all employees to get approval from supervisors for outside work, including consulting.
He said that a check of the files of Andrea Jefferson, a Southern University administrator and Jefferson's wife, found no form reporting outside work.
Prosecutors allege that Andrea Jefferson's firm, the ANJ Group, received more than $360,000 from iGate Inc. and millions of shares of iGate stock, which they characterize as bribes intended to get then-Rep. Jefferson's help winning contracts in western Africa.
In cross examination, William Jefferson's attorneys said that for a good deal of the time at issue, between May 2001 and her reinstatement in the summer of 2003, Andrea Jefferson did not work at Southern.
Kachikwu testified Wednesday that Jefferson had sought payoffs from NDTV that could have netted the New Orleans Democrat millions of dollars. The plan was for NDTV to use technology by iGate Inc., a Kentucky firm Jefferson was promoting, to develop cable and Internet service over existing phone lines.
Asked repeatedly by assistant U.S. Attorney Rebeca Bellows whether Jefferson ever told Nigerian officials that he had a financial stake in iGate or that he was receiving bribes from officials at NDTV, Kachikwu responded by either answering emphatically: "Absolutely not, " or "No."
He also did his best to support the prosecution argument that Jefferson was using his official congressional office to help iGate and other businesses, not, as the defense argues, acting on private business deals not covered by the federal bribery statute.
At one point, asked by Bellows to describe a letter Jefferson sent to the president of Nigeria, Kachikwu didn't dwell on the contents, but told the jury it was written on "official congressional letterhead."
In cross examination, Jefferson attorney Amy Jackson hit hard at what she argued were a series of inconsistencies and misstatements in Kachikwu's direct testimony.
After the NDTV deal had fizzled, he sent an e-mail to Vernon Jackson, the CEO of iGate, asking about working together on other technology deals, and continued to pursue other deals with the Kentucky company and Jefferson.
Kachikwu had a hard time remembering details of meetings when asked about them by Amy Jackson.
Kachikwu, who says he has left Nigeria and now lives in suburban Maryland, said he couldn't "recollect" when he met with the FBI, how many times he met with agents, what he had told them and whether he had helped his then fellow NDTV owners respond to a threat from iGate to "default" on its contractual obligations.
Amy Jackson described FBI accounts of an agent's interview with Kachikwu that showed his initial complaints didn't mention bribes at all, but centered on his belief he had been the victim of financial fraud, mostly by iGate. He told the FBI that his NDTV company had paid $6.5 million to iGate as an upfront payments to get the telecommunications project started, but that he and the firm had been only been repaid $1.7 million when the project died, according to Jackson.
Under questioning by Jackson, Kachikwu admitted he had not provided any of the $6.5 million, but that the money came instead from a Nigerian petroleum account administered by the then Nigerian vice president, Atiku Abubakar.
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Bruce Alpert can be reached at email@example.com or 202.383.7861.