By Nicholas Ibekwe, Premiumtimes
Contradictory testimonies by the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), used in a UK court, was partly responsible for the failure of an attempt to extradite a former senator, Buruji Kashamu, to the United States, a court document obtained by PREMIUM TIMES shows.
Mr Kashamu died on Saturday at a Lagos hospital after he reportedly became ill after contracting coronavirus.
In December 1998, Mr Kashamu was arrested by operatives of the Metropolitan Police, upon arriving in London, United Kingdom, on drug trafficking allegations. Seven months earlier, the late senator had been indicted by United States authorities for allegedly being the mastermind of a heroin smuggling ring.
After his arrest and incarceration in a UK jail, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs commenced a process to have him extradited to the U.S. to face trial, but that process was scuttled in part by conflicting testimonies about his identity and role as an informer for the NDLEA.
Mr Kashamu was indicted following incriminating evidence provided by three of his alleged co-conspirators. He was detained at the Brixton Prison pending the completion of his extradition process.
The former lawmaker denied the allegation. He claimed that the so-called “Alaji”, the drug-smuggling kingpin, which the co-conspirators had told U.S. authorities about, was his brother, Adewale Kashamu. He said Adewale was allegedly killed in 1989 by personnel of the Nigerian Customs. He said he shared a striking resemblance with his deceased brother.
The contradictory evidence
In February 1999, U.S. authorities filed for the extradition of Mr Kashamu from London. In May 2000, as part of his challenge to the extradition by the U.S., Mr Kashamu submitted documents proving he cooperated with law enforcement authorities in Benin, Togo and Nigeria.
Mr Kashamu’s challenge was primarily centred on two claims: that he was a cooperator with the NDLEA, and that he told the NDLEA, among other things, that his brother was a drug trafficker.
He subsequently submitted evidence he obtained from the NDLEA and from authorities in Benin and Togo, where he was based and conducted a car importation business from.
The U.S. government then made an inquiry to Interpol in Benin, Togo and Nigeria asking whether Mr Kashamu ever acted as a cooperator with law enforcement agencies in these countries.
In October 2000, Interpol Benin responded, describing Mr Kashamu as “a well-known businessman in Cotonou,” who “collaborated with the police of Benin (BCN-IP Cotonou) within the scope of the fight against drug trafficking from 1993 to 1995.”
In July and August 2000, Interpol Togo relayed that Buruji Kashamu “had provided service to Togo” from 1990 to 1997 “in the area of information concerning narcotics traffickers” and that the “Chiefs of the Immigration Service … and Interpol” confirmed that Mr Kashamu provided “confidential information concerning his brother,, the man named Adewale Adeshina Kashamu who also belonged to a drug trafficking network”, the court document revealed.
On January 24, 2000, Mr Kashamu’s lawyer presented to the London court, a letter written on NDLEA letterhead and signed by the NDLEA chairman at the time, Ogbonna Onovo, supporting Mr Kashamu’s claim that he was an NDLEA cooperator.
The letter stated that Mr Kashamu has been very helpful to the NDLEA in crime-fighting. “We are surprised that he is being incarcerated on wrong accusation of drug trafficking in the UK,” the letter stated.
However, on November 8, 2001, U.S. authorities received a letter dated March 12, 2001, and signed by Bello Lafiaji, the chairman of the NDLEA at the time, addressed to the U.S. ambassador in Nigeria which contradicted the testimonies received from Benin and Togo.
Mr Lafiaji told U.S. authorities that Mr Kashamu, “had at no time, been an informant of this agency (NDLEA) nor has the Agency had cause to reward him for anything.”
The letter also claimed that “Alhaji Adewale Adeshina Kashamu, a wanted drug suspect, was already dead by the time Buruji Kashamu was wanted by this Agency in 1994, having died while attempting to run away from Customs investigation for involvement in drugs.”
A day after receiving the letter from Mr Lafiaji, the U.S. government attorney wrote to the DEA office in Lagos, asking it to seek a response from the NDLEA about the contradictory testimonies.
On November 15, 2001, the attorney received a letter from the NDLEA signed by Usman Amali, a special assistant to the Chairman and Chief Executive of the NDLEA, stating that the January 24, 2000 letter submitted by Mr Kashamu, and another letter January 13, 2000, were “bogus” and their contents “absolutely false”. The U.S. attorney informed the Crown prosecution Services of the UK of these responses.
Mr Kashamu subsequently filed affidavits from Illiya Mshelia, chief prosecutor and deputy director in Legal Services Department of the NDLEA and Samson Aboki, director of public prosecution of the NDLEA on February 4, 2002, supporting his claim of being an NDLEA informer and cooperator.
The US attorney immediately sent a request via the DEA office in Lagos to the NDLEA to confirm if the affidavits were valid and whether those who swore to it existed. The next day the attorney received a letter from Mr Amali insisting that Mr Kashamu “has never been an informant or source of this Agency, rather he is a fugitive drug offender on the run from arrest, please.”
But just before the magistrate commenced the extradition process on May 9, 2002, Mr Kashamu presented another letter to the court where the chairman claimed that Mr Kashamu was not arrested in 1994 and was not “on the list of persons wanted for prima facie drug offences by the Agency, per se.”
The letter also claimed Mr Kashamu’s brother, Adewale, had not died in the custody of the Nigerian Customs Services. Mr Kashamu also told the court that he had sued the NDLEA because the NDLEA had not retracted the negative information in its letters about him.
Again, the U.S. attorney reached out to the NDLEA to confirm the veracity of the latest letter from NDLEA. On May 8, 2002, the US attorney received a letter signed by Mr Amali.
“[T]he Agency stands firmly by its earlier assertion that Buruji Kashamu has never been a cooperator with NDLEA.”
The letter, however, stated that after it was presented by the passport issued in 1990 to Adewale, Mr Kashamu’s brother, the NDLEA found it “difficult to continue to assert [its] earlier conclusion that Adewale Kashamu died in the custody of the Nigerian Customs Service before the establishment of NDLEA in 1989.”
The letter also stated that Mr Kashamu had “threatened to take legal action against the Agency and the Federal Government of Nigeria, if the letters were not retracted.”
After reviewing all the evidence before him, the magistrate in charge of the extradition proceeding, Timothy Workman, ruled in Mr Kashamu’s favour, thereby squashing his extradition to the US.
Interestingly, in 2015, the NDLEA tried to extradite Mr Kashamu to the US for the same allegations but the attempt was aborted by an order of a Federal High Court in Abuja.