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Is Cameron’s campaign against corrupt cash starting to bite?

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Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 15.59.11The arrest of Nigeria’s glamorous former oil minister suggests it is, says Clementine Wallop

13 October 2015

Like many others, I was sceptical when in July, Prime Minister David Cameron said in a speech in Singapore he was planning to crack down on corrupt foreigners who own luxury properties in London and use the capital as a place to launder dirty cash.

It’s easy to say that ‘the UK must not become a safe haven for corrupt money from around the world,’ but rather harder to act on, especially given the intricate networks of shell companies through which many of these properties are owned, and given the number of properties bought legitimately with money that has a less troubling provenance.

What then, to make of the news that Nigeria’s former oil minister, the glamorous Diezani Alison-Madueke, was arrested earlier this month in London on bribery and corruption charges?

She was arrested by the National Crime Agency’s International Corruption Unit, since when Nigeria’s own Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has sealed off a house in Nigerian capital Abuja’s shiny Asokoro district and, according to local reports, removed documents. Following such big news, the Nigerian rumour mill must currently be the country’s most productive industry.

Alison-Madueke’s family disputed last week that she’d been arrested, saying through their lawyer that she’d instead been ‘invited’ by authorities. The family lawyer also sought to dispel some of the rumours that have been doing the rounds in the last couple of weeks relating to UK and US property holdings.

So far, what we know from London is that she was arrested alongside several others following a lengthy investigation that started in 2013, long predating Cameron’s speech, and that the NCA was given court permission to temporarily seize £27,000 from her last week.

If the amount looks rather paltry for a corruption investigation into one of the most powerful politicians of recent years from one of Africa’s wealthiest countries, it’s because it is.

Here in Abuja, conversations are not centring so much on that £27,000 but rather on the £13.2 billion in state oil revenue that former central bank governor Lamido Sanusi claimed in late 2013 was unaccounted for during Alison-Madueke’s tenure under the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan. Sanusi, now Emir of Kano, was suspended not long after, and an audit was inconclusive.

Her arrest also comes after a change of government in Africa’s largest economy: newly-installed president Muhammadu Buhari campaigned hard on an anti-corruption ticket to defeat Jonathan in March’s general election and Nigerians are hungry for the clean up they’ve been promised.

British and Nigerian media report that Alison-Madueke has been spending time in the environs of One Hyde Park, the development that’s become a symbol of London’s runaway property market. A Vanity Fair investigation in 2013 showed that at the time, 60 of the 80 or so apartments in the development were owned by corporations registered in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man and Liechtenstein.

There has been no official suggestion from the NCA that their investigation is connected to the missing oil cash or to any specific London property. Her lawyer contends that the One Hyde Park property in question ‘belongs to a well-known… Nigerian entrepreneur’ who would be embarrassed by suggestions Alison-Madueke was planning to purchase it herself, as alleged in some media outlets. Alison-Madueke may yet be found innocent of all the allegations made against her.

The length of the investigation into her affairs suggest wheels have indeed been turning in Britain to crack down on suspicions of international corruption. Progress from here will be slow and enquiries tortuous, but Cameron’s campaign against corrupt money may be starting to show its teeth.

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