The U.S. is seeking to recover $144 million in assets, including proceeds from a luxury condominium on Manhattan’s Billionaires’ Row in New York, which prosecutors claim were spoils from bribes paid for Nigerian oil contracts.
The Justice Department, in a lawsuit filed last Friday in Houston, said two Nigerian businessmen made corrupt payments to a Nigerian official who oversaw the country’s state-owned oil company in exchange for contracts. They then laundered the money through the U.S., according to the filing.
The men, Kolawole Akanni Aluko and Olajide Omokore, purchased real estate, while Aluko bought a luxury cruiser, the government alleges. The lawsuit seeks the forfeiture of the Galactica Star, an $80 million yacht, and a $50 million condo at Manhattan’s One57, according to the Justice Department.
“Corrupt foreign officials and business executives should make no mistake: if illicit funds are within the reach of the United States, we will seek to forfeit them and to return them to the victims from whom they were stolen,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco said in a statement.
The Justice Department’s recovery lawsuit comes just days before Aluko’s penthouse at One57, one of Manhattan’s most expensive buildings, is scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure auction forced by his mortgage lender. Aluko defaulted on a $35.3 million loan from Luxembourg-based Banque Havilland SA, which said in court filings earlier this year that he failed to pay back the full loan amount in September.
The auction, scheduled for July 19 in lower Manhattan, would mark the biggest foreclosure in the city’s residential history. Aluko’s condo, apartment 79, is a full-floor, 6,240-square-foot (580-square-meter) penthouse that was the eighth-priciest sold in the building located at 157 W. 57th Street, just across the street from Carnegie Hall, according to real estate data firm PropertyShark.
Built by Extell Development Co., One57 has become a symbol of New York’s luxury-development boom — and eventual slowdown. The tower, which broke ground in 2009, drew investors willing to pay large sums for lavish residences they rarely lived in, inspiring other developers to build similar offerings, creating an effective “Billionaires’ Row” along West 57th Street. One57 still holds the record for the most-expensive residential sale in New York in December 2014 at $100.5 million.
The bribes were paid between 2011 and 2015 to Diezani Alison-Madueke, then Nigeria’s minister for petroleum resources, according to the complaint. The defendants are accused of spending millions to fund a lavish lifestyle for Alison-Madueke. They acquired real estate in London that was used by the minister and her family, and bought her more than $1 million of furniture and artwork from several stores in Houston, Texas, the complaint said.
In return, Alison-Madueke used her influence to direct contracts to two of their shell companies — Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Nigeria Ltd. and Atlantic Energy Brass Development Ltd. — through a subsidiary of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corp, according to the complaint. The companies failed to abide by the terms the contracts, yet were permitted to sell more than $1.5 billion worth of Nigerian crude oil, the U.S. alleges. And then the global luxury spending spree began.
The Galactica Star is a 213-feet (65 meters) luxury yacht built by Dutch shipbuilder Heesen Shipyards. It features a sundeck and a touch-and-go helipad on the foredeck, a master suite with a private balcony, and has room for up to 12 guests. Music stars Jay-Z and Beyonce celebrated her 32nd birthday on the yacht in 2013.
The Galactica Star was last docked in Freeport in the Bahamas on May 3, according to shiptracking data compiled by Bloomberg. The transponder signal has been silent since then, the data show.
At one point Alison-Madueke warned Aluko and Omokore, in a recorded conversation, that they were being too conspicuous in their spending and said it would arouse the attention of authorities.
“I spoke to you several times about your general behavior, acquisition of assets, etc., asking you to be a bit more careful,” Alison-Madueke said to Aluko, according to the court filings. “If you want to hire a yacht, you lease it for two weeks or whatever. You don’t go and sink funds into it at this time when Nigerian oil and gas sector is under all kinds of watch.”
The suit was brought by the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which has previously brought cases seeking assets from corruption by Malaysian and Uzbekistan officials, among others.
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