By Emeka Ugwuonye, Esquire
I could not contain my laughter when I read about the social media controversy over Festus Keyamo’s house in America. For several reasons, it was a relief to me to find out that Keyamo is now a property owner in America, which makes him amenable to the jurisdiction of the United States’ courts.
Time line is important the understanding how Keyamo made the money he used in purchasing a house in America. The story is full of ironies. In his feeble defense to the allegations of corruption as to how he was able to purchase a house overseas while serving as a minister, Keyamo was reported to have said as follows:
“In 2021, I again wrote to the relevant agencies (by letters dated January 22, 2021), informing them of the movement of those funds out of the country to purchase a property as a better investment decision, instead of the funds lying idly in the account whilst I am in public office,”
He was further reported to have said that the building was about the cheapest of his several properties. He claimed that his flourishing and manned law chambers and his real estate investments are still far more financially profitable than serving Nigeria. He said also that “serving our country is a labor of love.”
I found those claims from Keyamo to be untrue, deceptive and totally misleading. If in 2021, Keyamo write his last of a series of correspondence seeking to transfer money that had been lying idle in his account, it is logical to believe he earned the money in 2019 and 2020. He wouldn’t really worry that the money was lying idle if he just earned it. The interval between his first correspondence and the final one in 2021 may have been more than one year. Hence, my assumption that it was in 2019 that Keyamo came upon the money he needed to offload or launder through purchase of a property in the United States in 2021.
Before I go further, let me state a logical assumption. If the money Keyamo used to purchase the property in the United States was proceed of unlawful transaction, then his purchase of property in America can properly be classified as money laundry. I shall now identify the particular transaction in 2019 from which Keyamo got 230,000 USD.
I was in remanded in Kuje prison in February of 2019 in one of those cases the police filed to keep me from starting the End-SARS protest head of when it finally occurred. I was placed in a special cell along with an inmate called GO. The called him that because he was the leader of the Christian inmates and in charge of the prison chapel. He was placed in a special cell as the do high profile inmates such as politicians and rich people. Because the prison officials treated me like an important inmate, I was placed in the same special cell with this GO. Our cell was next to the cell of Governor Joshua Dariye, another high profile inmate.
PLEASE NOTE: I was only remanded in prison awaiting trial. I have never been convicted of any offense in my entire life anywhere in the world, including Nigeria where every effort has been made to convict me. But I have been charged more than ten times by Nigerian authorities. So far, I have won all the cases. And in each case, I was charged because I criticized law enforcement. It is important to make that clarification.
One night, around 19th of February, 2019, a new inmate was brought to the cell I occupied with the GEO. The inmate was a man from Pakistan. His name was Muhammad Khalid Khan.
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Of course, bringing him to our cell meant that he was viewed as a high profile inmate or someone with money to pay the officials. As Khan entered the cell and the after the warders left and locked us inside, I and GO introduced ourselves to him and began to interview him. It is a standard practice that when you enter a cell, the inmates in that cell would interview. You and give you the rules of that particular cell and the rules of the custody as well as the rules of the prison. The depth of questioning during the interview depends on the comparative strength and personality of the resident inmates and incoming inmates. I wasn’t interviewed when I entered the cell. My fight with the police was already well known and the inmates and warders knew of me before I got to the prison.
In the case of Khan, he was told I was a lawyer and he expected I would grill him. The moment I saw him, I knew this was a tough guy in the criminal world of which most Nigerians could not imagine. He was quiet and unassuming. Yet, from experience, I knew this was a big fish. I wasn’t really authorized to interview him. But did so out of curiosity. A Pakistani in Nigerian prison is not a frequent occurrence. My initial impression was involved in terrorism financing. So, I grilled Khan in the presence of GO. He told me he was arrested at the airport upon landing in Nigeria. He wasn’t sure the particular law enforcement agency that arrested him. I knew I could figure it out if he could tell me the offense he was charged with. I knew he must have been charged with an offense because he wouldn’t be remanded in prison without a remand warrant issued by a court. Also, the name of the court (Federal High Court) gave me the idea that this was a drug related offense or terrorism. He also indicated to me that they were trying to extradite him to America. That gave me the impression that he must be wanted by America either for drug-related offenses or terrorism-related financing. But Khan did not really know much about details of the processes playing around him.
I tried to know why he was in Nigeria. But he was evasive. I tried to know his exact contacts with America. He told me he had never been to America. I had to draw certain conclusions from that. The only way America would want to extradite a foreigner who has not been to America is if his actions affected victims in America in a serious way.
Normally in extradition case, the offense is actually packaged by the foreign government. All there is for Nigeria are some straightforward diplomatic and administrative protocols whereby the Nigerian Ministry of Justice takes the suspect to the Federal court and presents the documentation that was formulated by the American Department of Justice. The suspect may not know the details of the offenses., except what he could read from the document served on his shortly before he appears before a court. Even the Nigerian government will not know the details of the offenses. All they will see in Nigeria is that the United States Government wants this individual extradited based on vaguely described offenses. In a standard criminal case in Nigeria, the prosecutor would draft the charges and file them along with proof of evidence and serve same on the suspect. So, in a standard criminal trial, the defendant must know the details of the offences he was charged with. But Khan arrived in Kuje without knowing the details of the offences against him. From experience, I knew that he was facing extradition.
Immediately Khan realized that I was a lawyer both in Nigeria and the United States and that I had deep knowledge of extradition proceedings, he was so happy. He began to seek my help immediately. He wanted me to guide him. I told him flatly that he was facing an uphill task. This was because he was not a citizen of Nigeria. All those constitutional defenses a Nigerian citizen could normally invoke to prevent extradition would not be available for a non-Nigerian citizen who finds himself fighting extradition in Nigerian courts. Khan pressured me to link up with lawyers outside the prison to challenge his extradition. I told him there was really no hope for him in that respect. I advised him that his best option was to pursue diplomatic option since I could see that he was highly connected to the Government of Pakistan. That was actually true because right from the moment he got into the cell, he was able to communicate directly with the Pakistani Ambassador and even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Pakistan.
It was much later that I realized that Khan controlled an international drug trafficking and money laundering network responsible for trafficking narcotics to the US, Australia, Africa and Europe. His money-laundering network was widespread throughout the US, Australia, Canada, Africa, Europe and Asia. And American government wanted him badly.
Khan was really impressed with my knowledge of things concerning his type of case. He was impressed when he realized I was able to decipher information he did not want to divulge to me. For instance, I knew he was going to be taken to the Southern District New York. I also could tell that he would be convicted if taken there. I just explained to him the conviction rate of the US District Attorney for the Southern District of New York. I also explained to him that when the DOJ and the State Department go that far to get a suspect, it is because they believe he is a high valued suspect and they must have excellent evidence against him.
Due to the fact that Khan trusted my judgment and analysis, he kept pressing me to find a lawyer for him in Nigeria would take his case. Even though I managed to convince him that on points of law and available precedent, he would not win in court on the merit, he wanted me to find a way to bribe the court. He made it clear to me that he would pay up to 5 million dollars in bribe in I could arrange for people that would set him free in exchange for that money. I was reluctant to even consider his request. While I was able to discuss the law with him, I was totally clueless when it came to arranging officials that would be able to take money from him and set him free.
Khan promised to give me 100,000USD upfront if I could help him with that, and 200,000USD when he would get back to Pakistan. I didn’t want to consider this. Besides, it could be dangerous messing with a man like Khan with an international network of bad guys. So, I politely declined. However, GO thought otherwise. He thought that the money Khan was offering for help was too much to ignore. When I went to court the following day, GO was alone with Khan. GO convinced Khan that he would fine him a lawyer, well connected with the government that would help him. The lawyer GO found for K was Festus Keyamo. When I came back from court, I noticed that Khan was avoiding me. He and GO did not want to tell me that they had reached out to Keyamo and that Keyamo had agreed to help Khan.
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The next day, Keyamo visited the prison in his Landcruiser. I knew that Keyamo came to Kuje, but I did not immediately realize who he came to see. All I knew was that Khan was taken out to meet a visitor and that GO went with him. It was later that night that I realized that Keyamo had promised Khan that he would use his connections in the Buhari Government to stop his extradition. I was told that Keyamo charged Khan 280,0000 USD for that. Khan was willing to pay anything. I tried to convince Khan that Keyamo was only trying to dupe him. I felt that with the level of interest the United States Government had in Khan, even the President of Nigeria would not be able to stop the extradition. So, I knew that Keyamo was lying to Khan. He just wanted to take the man’s money. Unfortunately, as I tried to stop Khan from trusting Keyamo, Khan began to see me as someone opposed to his only solution. Also, GO felt that I was about to spoil the opportunity of him getting money. I learnt that GO was to get 50,000USD for his role in arranging for Keyamo. I later heard that Keyamo gave 50,000USD to a relative of GO out of the 280,000USD Khan paid him.
NOTE: The prison environment is an unusual place where things are whispered in hushes. Verification of information cannot be 100%. My reader must take that into consideration in drawing his conclusions.
I felt mad when I heard that Khan had actually paid Keyamo. I became more and more critical of the entire deal. GO and Khan conspired with the officer-in-charge of the prison to place me in solitary confinement for two weeks where I would not have contact with Khan or any other inmate. They believe I might ruin the whole deal. Of course, Khan settled the officer-in-charge in this whole deal. Even before Khan arrived in our cell, the officer-in-charge was already in his pocket. You won’t know what 10,000USD cash can do to a Nigerian civil servant if you put it in his pocket until you see how the Officer-in-Charge was fawning toward Khan.
For four weeks, I found myself in the segregation unit of Kuje prison. It was called segregation cell because it was designed to isolate an inmate and keep him away from the prison population. Khan was now being escorted by specially designated inmates and warders for the purpose of ensuring that his path would not cross mine during the 60-minutes-a-day period that I was allowed to come out of my cell. But don’t forget that every warder is so easy to compromise. So, segregation or no segregation, I knew what was going on. I discover within a relatively short time anyway. So, I knew that Khan continued with the Keyamo charade.
Keeping me in segregation was becoming a problem because I was popular with the junior warders. They routinely flouted the orders given to them to be strict with me. I wasn’t as segregated or as isolated as the officer-in-charge had expected. His staff undermined his goal in that respect. Because I was not as isolated as he expected, I had the capacity to reveal to the United States Government that Nigerian prison officials were cooperating with Khan to frustrate his extradition. This was true really because the officer-in-charge and GO gave Khan a phone and sim card with which he was communicating with Keyamo and his people in Pakistan. I knew that if I sent to the District Attorney in New York the WhatsApp number K was using in Kuje, the FBI would be able to track his WhatsApp chats and that it would cause tremendous panic. And I could so easily do that because inmates had easy access to phones in prison. So, the officer-in-charge was really worried about me, especially as he knew that his staff were sympathetic to me. Indeed, they were hostile to their boss, really. One day, the officer-in-charge came to the segregation unit very angry. He was shouting at me. He said: “Barrister Emeka, you are a dangerous man. No other inmate has been able to set my staff against me as you have done. But I will show you that I run this prison”. Honestly, I didn’t see that coming because I was not doing anything in particular to antagonize the warders against their Officer-in-Charge. The warders were acting on their own understanding of events around them.
Two weeks after Keyamo was said to have taken money from Khan, the court granted the government application and ordered that Khan be extradited to the US. It dawned on Khan that I might have been right about Keyamo. But even after the court had ordered the extradition of Khan, a few days before he was to be taken to America, Keyamo still told Khan to bring another 100,000USD which he claimed was demanded by the Attorney-General in order to stop the extradition. I understood that Khan also gave that additional 100,000USD to Keyamo.
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I was released from segregation when the pressure became too much on the Officer-in-Charge. When released from solitary confinement, I was placed in another cell in another custody and forbidden from meeting or speaking with Khan. Initially, Khan agreed to stay away from me. But as Keyamo’s promises did not materialize and things were going in the opposite direction, Khan became desperate to speak with me. He sent inmates to reach out to me to seek my advice.
Less than a week after I came out of solitary confinement, I saw the prison official going to remove Khan from his cell. I understood that move, that mood. All of a sudden, officers were laughing and smiling turned stern-faced. Agents of the US Government had come to the prison accompanied by NDLEA officers to take Khan. As Khan was leaving the prison, he saw me and he began to scream so I would hear him: “I need my money back. I need my money back. Keyamo took my money but failed to deliver”. He actually spoke with Keyamo that morning and Keyamo assured him that everything was alright. I felt pity for him. I knew what was awaiting him outside the prison gate. I knew that in less than 24 hours, he would be in New York before a judge that would remand him. I estimated that in addition to the N380,000USD that Khan probably paid to Keyamo, he must have paid additional 130,000USD on other officials and intermediaries.
Khan is now serving his long prison term in the US. I intend to visit him in the US prison to get the full story and to tell him that Keyamo now has a house in America. He can arrange to get his money back.