Nigeria's vice president sought up to $500,000 and a stake in a technology venture in his country, according to statements Rep. William Jefferson made to an FBI informant that were detailed in court documents filed in a bribery probe of the congressman.
Jefferson allegedly told the FBI informant that he had delivered "African art," which authorities believe was code for cash, to the Potomac, Md., home of the wife of Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar at midnight last July 31.
Details of the alleged deal were included in an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court to secure a warrant to search Abubakar's house in Potomac. The affidavit was unsealed Monday by the federal court in Greenbelt.
The affidavit says delivery of the money came shortly after Jefferson allegedly received $100,000 in cash from the FBI informant that was supposed to help smooth the way for a Kentucky telecommunications company, iGate Inc., to conduct business in Nigeria.
It is unclear if any of that money was delivered to the vice president's home, and his possible role is described only by Jefferson in wiretaps the FBI made.
According to another search warrant affidavit for Jefferson's congressional office, filed last month, $90,000 in cash was found in a freezer at Jefferson's Washington home. A briefcase similar to the one Jefferson used to carry the money was found in a later search of his New Orleans home, according to federal court documents filed there.
The 39-page affidavit released Monday in Maryland, some sections of which remain sealed, does not mention Abubakar by name. But it does identify the Potomac home as the residence of Jennifer Douglas, Abubakar's wife. It also refers to "the Vice President of Nigeria" when detailing the alleged scheme. Although the search of the Potomac residence was mentioned in documents previously released by the courts, names and titles were redacted to keep them secret.
Jefferson has denied wrongdoing in the probe.
An attorney for Abubakar did not immediately respond to requests for comment. In Nigeria, where Abubakar last week kicked off his campaign for president, his spokesman Mohammed Yakubu said they have yet to see details of the allegations. "We don't have anything to say until we have seen these reports or allegations," he said by telephone from Abuja.
The informant was a northern Virginia businesswoman identified by law enforcement officials as Lori Mody. She went to the FBI when she believed Jefferson and others were defrauding her on the business deal. Jefferson discussed with her the "payment of bribes to high-ranking foreign government officials," including Abubakar, according to the affidavit.
Jefferson wrote a letter dated June 21, 2005 to Abubakar at the Nigerian embassy in Washington, alerting him to "a U.S. Company" that wanted to invest $50 million to provide high speed Internet access in Nigeria using Nigerian telecom company Nitel's lines.
The congressman then met with Abubakar on July 18 in Potomac and the vice president "agreed to help secure the necessary approvals" for iGate to begin work in Nigeria. In return, Abubakar wanted at least 50 percent of the profits from another Nigerian company working on the deal and a payment of up to $500,000 before the deal was completed.
Jefferson allegedly described the payment as the "front end" and the profit-sharing deal as the "back end."
On Aug. 1, the night after he allegedly delivered cash to the vice president's home, the FBI recorded a conversation between Mody and Jefferson on whether the deal was completed. Jefferson allegedly said: "I gave him the African art that you gave me and he was very pleased."
Jefferson allegedly told Mody earlier that he was arranging the deal to benefit his five daughters. The affidavit states he demanded that one daughter, lawyer Jamila Jefferson, be retained to help set up the Nigerian venture.
Jefferson, who represents most of New Orleans, has served in Congress since 1990. The raid on his Capitol Hill office sparked outrage from congressional leaders who claimed the Bush administration was violating the separation of powers doctrine. President Bush later sealed FBI files on the raid for 45 days.
Former Jefferson aide Brett Pfeffer has pleaded guilty and was given an eight-year term for his role in the bribery scandal. He is cooperating with authorities. Vernon Jackson, chief executive of iGate, also pleaded guilty to paying more than $400,000 in bribes to Jefferson.