WikiLeaks: Nigeria stymied corruption case

The Nigerian government's top law enforcement official sought to stymie an investigation into a powerful politician with ties to late President Umaru Yar'Adua, according to diplomatic cables released Saturday by the WikiLeaks website.

Former Attorney General Michael Aondoakaa demanded evidence against former Delta state Gov. James Ibori be returned from the U.K. to Nigeria as it had come by "inappropriate channels," a cable claims. Ibori has faced charges over stealing $292 million in state funds while in office. U.K. investigators claim Ibori, who now faces extradition from Dubai to the U.K., put much of the money in English banks.

The cables also show that as Britain investigated Ibori, it tried to negotiate with Nigerian officials to send more than 1,000 Nigerians now held in U.K. prisons back to their home country.

Ibori served as governor in a state in Nigeria's oil-rich Niger Delta, where foreign firms pump out the millions of barrels of oil that fuel Nigeria's government coffers. Much of that money sloshes into politician's pockets in a nation routinely described by analysts as being one of the world's most corrupt countries.

Nigerian anti-graft investigators arrested Ibori in 2007, but the cases against him foundered as his political power grew. Ibori contributed his wealth toward the 2007 election of late President Umaru Yar'Adua and later served as a trusted confidant to the ill leader.

In a November 2008 cable, U.S. diplomats in London recounted a conversation with British diplomat James Tansley that touched on Ibori's case. Tansley said Farida Waziri, then the new head of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, appeared to be constrained from taking action by Aondoakaa.

"Tansley said the attorney general has put Waziri on a very short leash and that he has 'no doubt' that Aondoakaa is protecting the governors and other key officials from prosecution," the cable reads. "He also noted that Aondoakaa is very close to Ibori, who is generally acknowledged as one of President Yar'Adua's closest advisers. Tansley assessed that Waziri would prosecute small cases, but will not pursue any cases that are not in the government's interest."

Aondoakaa has been mentioned in several cables published by WikiLeaks, including one claiming he once demanded "$2 million immediately and another $18 million the next day" to sign a contract. He previously has called the WikiLeaks claims "rubbish." He could not be immediately reached for comment Saturday.

A cable from October 2008 also notes another British diplomat questioning Waziri's own preparedness. Since taking over the commission, Waziri has been slow to prosecute many of the high-ranking politicians once under heavy investigation — even after Yar'Adua's May 2010 death.

The diplomat "noted that it is bizarre how frequently Waziri asks for additional information on major cases, details that she should already be familiar with if she is 'really digging into her portfolio,'" the cable reads.

British diplomats told U.S. officials it viewed cases like Ibori's as important as it could serve as an "important anti-corruption message to Nigerian government officials," the cables claim. However, Britain's own interests also tempered the pressure they used on their former colony.

A July 2008 cable recounting a visit by Yar'Adua to London includes details of then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown asking him for help in sending more than 1,000 Nigerian prisoners now held in the U.K. back to Nigeria. Nigerian law now requires prisoners give their consent for such a transfer.

"In his meeting with Prime Minister Brown, Yar'Adua agreed that 'arrangements on prison transfers needed to be made,'" the cable reads. However, by October 2008, British officials acknowledged their plans had hit a dead end as Aondoakaa stalled the proposal amid the Ibori prosecution.