Court convicts Nigerian over stolen public funds
ABUJA (Reuters) - A Nigerian woman has been sentenced to three years in jail in Britain for laundering 1.4 million pounds in public funds stolen by a state governor, the British embassy in Abuja said on Thursday.
The conviction of Joyce Oyebanjo was the first achieved by the Metropolitan Police's Proceeds of Corruption Unit, which was created to investigate the laundering of criminal funds in London by corrupt overseas officials, the embassy said.
Britain, Nigeria's former colonial ruler, has long been a popular destination for corrupt Nigerian politicians wishing to invest stolen money or educate their children in exclusive private schools. But British authorities have cracked down on the trend and two state governors have fallen foul of the law.
Oyebanjo was found to have used several bank accounts in Britain to launder public funds looted from the central Nigerian state of Plateau by Governor Joshua Dariye, who is on the run from British justice.
"All of her and Dariye's assets have been seized and will be subject to a forfeiture proceeding, so that we can return this money back to the people of Nigeria," said Trevor Shepherd, head of the Proceeds of Corruption Unit.
Dariye was arrested in September 2004 at a London hotel on suspicion of money laundering. Police recovered 93,000 pounds in cash from his hotel rooms. The governor was found to have purchased properties worth millions of pounds even though his legitimate earnings amounted to 40,000 pounds per year.
Dariye skipped bail and returned to Nigeria, where the anti-corruption Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has also accused him of looting public funds. He is in hiding.
Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation and biggest exporter of crude oil, is also one of the world's most corrupt countries, according to independent watchdog Transparency International.
President Olusegun Obasanjo has launched a much-hyped crackdown on corruption but critics say he has used allegations of graft to disqualify opponents from this month's elections while leaving his allies undisturbed. He denies this.
A year after Dariye's brush with British law, another Nigerian state governor was arrested in London and charged with money laundering before jumping bail and fleeing to Nigeria.
Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of oil-producing Bayelsa State in the southern Niger Delta was caught with almost a million pounds in cash in his London home.
State governors have immunity from prosecution in Nigeria, but both Dariye and Alamieyeseigha were impeached after returning from Britain and stripped of their immunity.
Since then, a court has overturned Dariye's impeachment, although he has not come out of hiding to reclaim his post. Alamieyeseigha is on trial in a Nigerian court.
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