Nigeria's Ex-Oil Minister Charged With Money Laundering Over 2015 Election Scandal

Diezani Alison-Madueke
Nigeria's ex-petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke speaks at the annual IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston, Texas, on March 4, 2014. Alison-Madueke has been charged with money laundering in connection with Nigeria's 2015 election. Rick Wilking/Reuters

Nigeria's federal high court has charged the country's former oil minister, who served under ex-president Goodluck Jonathan, with money laundering in connection with an alleged bribery scandal aimed to keep Jonathan in office.

The court found that Diezani Alison-Madueke, who ran the oil ministry from 2010-2015, and three officials in the country's electoral commission "conspired among [themselves] to directly take possession" of more than 264 million naira (worth nearly $1.4 million at the time), according to a statement from Nigeria's anti-corruption agency published Wednesday.

Jonathan was defeated in Nigeria's 2015 general election by current president, Muhammadu Buhari. He stepped down in what was Nigeria's first peaceful transfer of power since independence in 1960.

A former national security advisor under Jonathan, Sambo Dasuki—who has been charged with money laundering and criminal breach of trust but has pleaded not guilty—has claimed that more than $2 billion was diverted from fighting the jihadi group Boko Haram for bribes to ensure that Jonathan won the election, Voice of America reported.

Alison-Madueke was not present in court to enter a plea. The former oil minister has been in London since the 2015 election. She has previously denied any wrongdoing.

In October 2015, the International Corruption Unit of the U.K. National Crime Agency (NCA) arrested five people in London as part of an investigation into suspected bribery and money laundering; the Nigerian government confirmed that Alison-Madueke had been arrested. All five were released on conditional police bail, according to the NCA.

Newsweek contacted the NCA to see if any further action would be taken but received no immediate response.

Alison-Madueke is the first of Jonathan's ministers to be formally charged in the investigation. Jonathan has previously refused to comment on the alleged diversion of funds earmarked for fighting Boko Haram to avoid prejudicing ongoing judicial proceedings.

The anti-corruption agency, known as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), said one of the electoral officials present in court on Wednesday, named Christian Nwosu, pled guilty to receiving 30 million naira (now worth around $100,000). The prosecuting lawyer said that Nwosu had entered a plea bargain agreement, and that 5 million naira had been recovered from him, while the rest was spent on properties.

Buhari has pledged to recoup billions of dollars lost to corruption in Nigeria. The West African country is ranked 136 out of 176 countries in anti-corruption NGO Transparency International's 2016 global index of corruption perceptions.