Nigerian who stole $145M pays fine to avoid prison
A man who formerly helped oversee Nigeria's police pension program pleaded guilty Monday to stealing $145 million, but walked out of court a free man after agreeing to a plea bargain that saw him pay only a fraction of it back.
The plea deal given to John Yakubu Yusufu and read out in court sparked immediate anger across Nigeria, a nation where many feel government officials pilfer pension funds and oil revenue without any fear of prosecution. Yusufu will pay only a $14,000 fine, forfeit some properties and pay about $2 million in restitution, something that the nation's top anti-corruption agency immediately criticized.
Justice Mohammed Talba, who agreed to the plea deal in a Federal High Court, sentenced Yusufu to serve two years in prison. However, Talba said Yusufu could pay the fine and the restitution, which also includes turning over 32 properties he allegedly purchased with the stolen money.
In asking for the plea deal, Yusufu's defense lawyer, Theodore Bala Maiyakim, said his client had a serious heart condition.
"He has saved the time of my Lord and being a first offender, with no previous record of conviction, I urge the court to temper justice with mercy and sentence him with least possible terms," Maiyakim asked, according to an account provided by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Prosecutor Rotimi Jacobs, however, called for Yusufu to serve prison time to "send out the message that the era of stealing public funds with impunity is gone."
Under the three charges filed against Yusuf, he could have served a maximum of six years in prison. Six others allegedly involved in the scam have pleaded not guilty.
Wilson Uwujaren, a spokesman for the anti-corruption agency which sought the prosecutions, said the commission's officials strenuously objected to the sentence in court, as money stolen in the scam remains unaccounted for.
"The commission will study the ruling and respond appropriately," Uwujaren said in a statement Monday.
Oil money provides about 80 percent of Nigeria's government funding, which trickles down to states that have budgets greater than those of surrounding nations. But the corruption that pervades the nation often sees that money go into political leaders' pockets rather than toward government services. There also have been a series of recent scandals in Nigeria over pensions being stolen by government officials.
Transparency International's recent world rankings placed Nigeria 139th out of 174 countries when it comes to perceived corruption.