By: Thad McBride and Cheryl Palmeri

On June 28, 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice executed a forfeiture order over $401,931 in assets traceable to Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, the former governor of Bayelsa State, Nigeria.  Mr. Alamieyeseigha served as governor of Bayelsa State from 1999 until December 2005, when he was impeached on corruption allegations.  Following his impeachment, Mr. Alamieyeseigha pleaded guilty in Nigeria to money laundering and failing to disclose a bank account in Florida.  In 2007, he was sentenced to two years in prison.

Apparently on its own initiative, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Asset Identification & Removal Group then initiated an investigation in the United States to identify and seize Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s assets.

The U.S. forfeiture complaint alleges that, for the entire period Mr. Alamieyeseigha was in office, his official salary was $81,000, and his declared income from all sources was $248,000.  Nevertheless, over his six-year tenure, Mr. Alamieyeseigha allegedly accumulated millions of dollars of property through corruption and other illegal activities.

This is the first time the Justice Department has obtained a forfeiture of assets under its Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, which partners the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section with federal law enforcement agencies to identify and seize the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, return those proceeds to benefit those harmed.

Recently, the Justice Department has expressed its commitment to combatting global corruption through aggressive enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).  But this initiative marks a new chapter in anti-corruption enforcement: targeting the recipients of corrupt payments.  It remains to be seen how often this approach is used in connection with FCPA cases the Department brings; it also seems possible the Department could use this approach to obtain forfeiture of assets obtained corruptly by persons subject to U.S. economic sanctions.

One thing seems certain: as Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer stated, this action sends a powerful message to corrupt foreign officials that the United States will not permit them “to stash their corruption proceeds on American soil.”