Nigerian governor disguised himself as woman to flee
British graft charge
by Dave Clark
LAGOS, Nov 21 (AFP) - The governor of an oil-rich
Nigerian state who is accused of embezzling millions of dollars in public
funds disguised himself as a woman and used a fake passport to skip
bail and escape Britain, officials said Monday.
Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa State arrived back in his local capital on Monday and made a televised address to crowds of joyful supporters after escaping a British money-laundering trial and flying back to Nigeria, where he enjoys immunity from prosecution.
"What happened this morning is a very sad
development. It is not something that we are proud of, but unfortunately it
is a Nigerian that is involved, and a powerful Nigerian," Nuhu Ribadu,
chairman of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), told reporters.
The escape will come as an embarrassment for both
President Olusegun Obasanjo and the British authorities, who have been
cooperating in a highly publicised joint anti-corruption probe.
"We know he dressed as a woman. We know that he
forged documents to gain entrance and pass through all the security checks
both at the UK side and also at the Nigerian side undetected," Ribadu told
a press conference in Abuja.
However, the official insisted the governor was not
yet off the hook, saying: "We will pursue this crusade that we have
taken upon ourselves. We will not in any way be deterred. We will not
But it is not clear how the British courts will
pursue the money-laundering charges leveled against
Alamieyeseigha in September. He is accused of
hiding 1.8 million pounds (3.2 million dollars, 2.7
million euros) in his London home and two British bank accounts.
"We now have in our hands a case of a state
governor in Nigeria being a fugitive. His case will need some diplomatic
manoeuvring to resolve. Here he has immunity, but in London he has no
immunity. The legal people will have to work on that," said foreign minister Olu
Alamieyeseigha appeared on television addressing
crowds of supporters in the Bayelsa capital Yenagoa in his
native Ijaw, the main language of
the oil-rich but restive Niger Delta.
"We woke up this morning and he was here ... He
said that God brought him here," said state information commissioner
Alamieyeseigha was detained at London's Heathrow
Airport on September 15 by Scotland Yard detectives.
London magistrates freed him on bail on October 11,
but he was ordered to post sureties totaling 1.25 million pounds,
surrender his passport, report to police every day and agree not to travel
within three miles of any port or airport.
A spokesman for the British embassy in Nigeria
said: "The governor has breached his bail conditions. It is likely
therefore that the police will apply to a British court for an arrest warrant
for use if he returns to the United Kingdom."
Last month, Obasanjo justice minister urged the
British court not to allow Alamieyeseigha to return to Nigeria and the
president has cited the charges against him as evidence that his
anti-corruption campaign is bearing fruit.
Alamieyeseigha is the second Nigerian governor to
escape from under the noses of the British authorities. Last year,
Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State skipped police bail and travelled back
to Nigeria after British detectives questioned him about money laundering.
Nigeria's 36 powerful state governors officially
earn just 74,000 naira (564 dollars, 470 euros) per month and are
forbidden from owning foreign properties.
But most lead lavish lifestyles and many have
expensive homes in foreign cities, especially London, where millions of
dollars of embezzled state funds are laundered through British banks.
The location of Nigeria's best-developed oil
fields, Bayelsa is one of Nigeria's richest states. It receives 53 million
dollars per month in oil revenue, more than any other region, despite being
home to just two million of Nigeria's 130 million citizens.
Despite the bounty, however, the state remains a
desolate region of impoverished fishing communities and delta wetlands.