A US publication, Popular Information, alleged that a lobbyist linked with US President Donald Trump was instrumental in the travel of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to the United States of America after his 12-year visa denial due to corruption charges.
In an article titled, “What does a $1.1 million lobbying contract buy in Trump’s Washington? ”the publication run by Judd Legum, said, “Abubakar was formally barred from obtaining a visa pursuant to a presidential proclamation targeting corrupt foreign officials.”
“So Abubakar had a problem. His inability to enter the United States was becoming a drag on his campaign to be the next president of Nigeria.
“So he hired Brian Ballard.”
But The Guardian can confirm that it was the People’s Democratic Party hired Ballard Partners as seen on the US Department of Justice website, even before Atiku emerged the party’s candidate.
Atiku arrived at the Trump International Hotel on Thursday, January 17 2019, months after his political party signed a deal with Ballard, a lobbyist reputedly “with deep connections to the Trump administration”, on September 21st, 2018.
Ballard was a top fundraiser during Trump’s campaign, who “chaired the Trump Victory organization” in Florida and “lobbied on behalf of the Trump Organization in the state for more than a decade.”
The former vice president had been prevented from entering the US due to the Proclamation 7750, that was signed by US President George W Bush in 2004 to suspend the entry of persons engaged in or benefiting from corruption.
The PDP presidential candidate had oft been criticised by the ruling All Progressives Congress of being corrupt and unable to measure up to their candidate, the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, whose bandied about reputation is one of squeaky clean integrity.
It has been a sticking point that Atiku’s political detractors have harped on. His less than stellar image further tainted by his inability to step into the US, one of Nigeria’s strong allies.
It is the reason Atiku’s eventual touchdown to the US after 12 years of being denied a visa, would have felt like a huge monkey off of the back of the former Vice president.
There were corruption allegations against Atiku in two separate cases with the US government.
He and his fourth wife Jennifer Douglas, an American citizen, were indicted in a 2010 US Senate committee report titled “KEEPING FOREIGN CORRUPTION OUT OF THE UNITED STATES.” They were accused of transferring over $40 million “suspect funds” to America from offshore accounts between 2002 and 2008.
“Ms Douglas helped her husband bring over $40 million in suspect funds into the United States, including at least $1.7 million in bribe payments from Siemens AG, a German corporation, and over $38 million from little known offshore corporations, primarily LetsGo Ltd. Inc., Guernsey Trust Company Nigeria Ltd., and Sima Holding Ltd,” the report said.
Atiku was also allegedly involved in a bribery scandal involving a former US congressman William Jefferson, who is currently serving a 13-year sentence in jail. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, $90,000 in cash found in Jefferson’s freezer was intended for Atiku.
Mr Jefferson had told colleagues of his plans to bribe Atiku with as much as $500,000 in cash, in exchange for business favours in Nigeria.
However, all allegations seem to have been waived with Ballard at work.
“Ballard was working contemporaneously so I think it’s reasonable to infer he may have played a role,” Legum told The Guardian on Monday.
After clandestinely planning his entry and arriving the States, there was a wave of polarised opinions.
His supporters greeted the entry with cheers akin to the Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It was another milestone to be celebrated, the purported charges had disappeared. And the opportunity to speak at the US Chamber of Commerce event was another feather to his cap.
In response, Buhari’s media aide, Lauretta Onochie, tactlessly tweeted unsubstantiated claims detailing why Nigerians should not vote Atiku. She furthered the brewing rumour that the former vice president had travelled as an aide to the Senate President Bukola Saraki to speak at the US chamber of commerce event.
According to Legum, despite the claims, he believes Proclamation 7750 would still have held.
“I’ve seen that online and I don’t know if that’s true. But either way, he would need a visa. I do know that he was previously prohibited from obtaining a visa pursuant to presidential proclamation 7750 and that his prohibition was recently rescinded by the Trump admin,” Legum said.