Aliu link with FBI probe dismissed
SOURCES close to the Castle have dismissed as “empty” media reports that Vice President Alhaji Aliu Mahama is under investigations by America's federal agents.
A publication in Louisiana's Times-Picayune linked the vice presidents of Ghana and Nigeria to an FBI investigation into the business dealings of Congressman William Jennings Jefferson over a high-tech startup company.
An executive of the company said he thought the US parliamentarian was squeezing him for money and called the FBI. Agents reportedly found cash in a freezer at one of the congressman's homes.
Mr Jefferson, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee of the House of Representatives, is co-chair of the Africa Trade and Investment Caucus and the Congressional Caucuses on Brazil and Nigeria.
On August 3, federal agents raided the Maryland residence of Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar and his wife, Jennifer; with simultaneous raids on the Washington DC and New Orleans homes of the Democrat Congressman of New Orleans.
The Times-Picayune reported a source familiar with the investigation revealing that the search warrants show agents were looking for records showing whether Mr Jefferson, 58, “paid, offered to pay or authorized payments to officials in the government of Nigeria or Ghana.”
According to the paper, the raid was in search of documents related to Mr Jefferson's alleged dealings with Alhaji Abubakar and Alhaji Aliu Mahama. The Congressman returned from a five-day visit to Ghana in mid-July, about three weeks before the FBI raided his homes and offices.
However, the only details given in the media point to a business transaction in Nigeria. The report said that the subpoenas covering the raids “focus in part on a telecommunications deal the Congressman was trying to engineer in Nigeria over the past year, according to documents and those familiar with details of the investigation.”
The report added: “It's not clear how Vice President Abubakar or his wife, a doctoral student at American University in Washington, might be connected to the telecommunications deal.”
But, here in Ghana, Alhaji Aliu Mahama has dismissed his alleged involvement as “preposterous.”
Indeed, the Vice President was even finding it difficult to remember the embattled Congressman when the name William Jefferson was mentioned to him on Saturday.
An aide to the Vice told The Statesman that the US Congressman was led by a businessman with very close links to the Kufuor administration to see Alhaji Aliu Mahama on the news that Mr Jefferson was leading a US-based IT company to introduce a revolutionary technology to Ghana – a country aiming at being the IT hub of the sub-region.
This was at the time that President Kufuor had travelled the other way to the United States to meet with President Bush. The short meeting was attended by Communications Minister Albert Kan-Dapaah, who was then to take the matter up.
“That was the first and last that time the Vice President heard of the Congressman. As far as he is concerned, he handed the matter to the appropriate ministry to deal with,” the Aide added.
Sources familiar with the telecommunications deal have reportedly said that Mr Jefferson was attempting to smooth the way for iGate Corp., a small Kentucky company, to introduce its high-speed broadband technology to Nigeria's fast-growing telecommunications market.
Reports say US investigators are looking into whether Mr Jefferson, a lawyer, illegally pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars of an investor's money from business transactions during what is turning out to be an FBI sting.
According to the sources, a high-tech company that was starting up in suburban Washington agreed to cooperate with the FBI in the sting, and conversations with Jefferson were secretly recorded.
Jefferson allegedly agreed to invest in the firm and use his congressional influence to bring in business, the sources said.
In an earlier publication, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, quoting an unnamed source, said the search warrants on the homes also mentioned Jefferson's wife's company, the ANJ Group. The paper said the warrants also asked for e-mail exchanges between Jefferson and “named foreign nationals.”
Jefferson has not been charged with wrongdoing. A federal grand jury in Washington is investigating the matter.
Quoting anonymous law enforcement sources, The Washington Post reported that the FBI operation against Mr Jefferson had been in the works for a year and was investigating whether he pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from business deals.
This makes it very unlikely that investigators would find any link with Ghana's Vice President, who only met him last month.
The US Justice Department is said to have been increasingly focused in recent years on prosecuting cases under the 1977 Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars corporations or their agents from paying, offering to pay or authorising payment of money or anything of value to further their business interests abroad.
It's been nearly three decades since FBI agents posed as Arab businessmen to nab members of Congress taking bribes in a sting that came to be known as ABSCAM.
The operation resulted in the indictments and convictions of one senator and five congressmen on charges including bribery and conspiracy and of one other congressman on lesser charges. While successful in the courtroom, the scam raised questions about FBI tactics, and the federal government appeared to shelve the procedure, at least on Capitol Hill.
But the lawyer for Mr Jefferson has reportedly said he believes federal investigators have once again set a trap for a sitting member of Congress. Mike Fawer said that the August 3 raids on Jefferson's homes, his office and his car have all the markings of an undercover sting operation.
The FBI has declined comment on the investigation and so far refused to supply Jefferson with the affidavits that supported the search warrants, which would shed light on what investigators are pursuing. The Washington Post has quoted sources saying a sting had been in the works for a year.
Exactly three years before his trip to Ghana, Mr Jefferson was honoured by the Washington International Trade Association (WITA) and the Washington International Trade Foundation (WITF) “because of his outstanding leadership on trade in the House generally, and specifically in regard to the vital role he played in winning House approval last year of legislation granting trade promotion authority to the President.”
WITF was created in 1995 to support the activities of the WITA. WITA keeps its members informed about the latest positions taken by Congress on trade policy, rules and regulations governing the US with respect to its trading partners as well as views of US trade policy abroad.
“I am deeply honoured by this award,” said Rep. Jefferson. “International trade is helpful to everyone. It benefits American consumers, producers, exporters, and is useful as a positive tool for development and growth around the globe,” said Mr Jefferson at receiving the award.
Mr Jefferson is now serving his eighth term as a Member of the United States House of Representatives. Representing the 2nd District of Louisiana since 1991, he is the first African-American to be elected to Congress in Louisiana since Reconstruction. Jefferson is also the current Chairperson of the Board of Directors for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a non-partisan, non-profit, public policy, research and educational institute founded by members of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1976.
In the 106th Congress, Jefferson helped to lead the successful effort to pass the first version of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) – the third version passed in 2004, during the 108th Congress. AGOA is designed to stimulate bi-lateral investment and trade between the US and the developing nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Ghana.