Despite his denials, documents from a Chicago court in the US reveal that Buruji Kashamu is a wanted man for narcotics deals
In recent times, top politicians have gone epistolary in their approach to commenting on national issues. And former president Olusegun Obasanjo occupies a front row seat with Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the Central Bank of Nigeria governor, in this communication genre. This development has created a domino effect such that letters have been criss-crossing the Nigerian airspace like bombers in war-time Europe. This is to say that, at a point, the contagion caught on with Obasanjo’s daughter, Iyabo; President Goodluck Jonathan; former Senate President, Ameh Ebute; Professor Benjamin Nwabueze and others. The process is bound to widen as time goes on…
Whoever thought Obasanjo was through with letter writing after sending a stinker to Jonathan on 2 December 2013 was mistaken. The former president fired another to the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chairman, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur, on 7 January 2014, aiming a punch at the solar plexus of Buruji Kashamu, PDP South-West leader. Obasanjo argued that Kashamu had been so extolled in the party in the South-West that he found the situation unsavoury. While the former president wrote that he believes a good national political party must be a microcosm of the nation in its membership, made up of all sorts of characters from near saints to Satan, he was of the opinion that, on no account must a “known habitual criminal that is wanted abroad to face criminal charges levelled against him be extolled as a political leader in a respectable and wholesome nation-building political party”.
Obasanjo’s homily was premised on the ideal that politics played by any national political party must have morality, decency, discipline, principles and leadership examples as cardinal principles of the party. In light of the above, he informed Tukur that while he remains a card-carrying member of the party, he could not handle a situation in which a wanted habitual criminal is “being installed as my zonal leader in the party, a criminal for whom extradition has been requested by the US government”. Obasanjo, therefore, gave notice that if Kashamu is allowed to remain leader, then he would consider withdrawing his activity with the party at local, state, zonal and national levels.
However, Kashamu, like a leader of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, did not allow a mischief against him to go without getting even. He published his reaction in the Nigerian media, claiming that he had become the target of Obasanjo’s wicked campaign of calumny and blackmail because of his perceived loss of political relevance in Ogun State and the South-West. Kashamu claimed that in Obasanjo’s 18-page satanic letter to Jonathan, he was the other person, indeed the only one (after the President), that the former president singled out for his venomous attack.
Kashamu waxed symbolic and considered himself the biblical David, fighting Goliath (in this case, Obasanjo) and that as in the ancient times he, with the help of God, would triumph. But Kashamu did not, like David his patron saint, wait for God to help him focus his catapult on the forehead of Goliath, the Philistine. Kashamu personally aimed his pebbles at Obasanjo’s underbelly, calling him a shamesless hypocrite, possessed by no other demon than the wicked Belzebub.
As he put it: “[Obasanjo] talked about not being able to work with me because of his principles and decency. But the questions Nigerians should ask him are: where were these principles when he used me to fight Gbenga Daniel? Where was his self-righteousness when I took the party structure from Daniel and handed it to Obasanjo? Where was his decency when he brought General Adetunji Olurin to me and asked that I should roll my structure behind his governorship ambition? Where was his morality when he introduced me to South-West PDP leaders like Engr. Segun Oni, Navy Captain Caleb Olubolade (rtd.) and a host of others?” Kashamu further asked of the whereabouts of Obasanjo when he hosted him (Kashamu) severally in his home, “taking me into his bedroom and innermost recesses”. He asked further: “Where was his decency when he accepted donations from me to his church and other concerns? Where was his gumption when he mounted the rostrum to sing my praises, praying for me as he did in May 2010 during a reception for the former Minister of Commerce and Industry, Senator Jubril Martins-Kuye? I can go on and on.”
Kashamu also faulted Obasanjo’s claim that he (Kashamu) is the zonal leader. Rather, Kashamu said, he is just one of the foot soldiers, for which he was made the Chairman of the Organisation and Mobilisation Committee for the party in the South-West. “It is indeed preposterous for anyone to call me the leader of the party in a zone that parades political juggernauts like Chief Olabode George, Alhaji Shuaibu Oyedokun, Senator Lekan Balogun, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Senator Teslim Folarin, Alhaji Yekeen Adeojo, Senator Clement Awoyelu, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, Senator Bode Olajumoke and a host of others,” said he.
On the issue of being a wanted man, Kashamu argued that there is “no request for my extradition for any offence whatsoever”. He challenged Obasanjo to produce the request for extradition, if there is any. Rather, Kashamu claimed, it was a case of mistaken identity “for which I had been tried and discharged after my innocence was established by the British courts”. He added that he is in court in the US, asking that the earlier “accusation (NOT CONVICTION) against me be quashed. That process is ongoing”.
Facts Of The Matter
Contrary to Kashamu’s claims, however, documents of the Northern District Court of Illinois, Eastern Division, presided over by Charles Ronald Norgle, prove otherwise. In a 5 July 2010 order of the judge, denying Kashamu’s motion to dismiss his indictment, Norgle gave a background to the whole drama.
Kary Hayes, in March 1994, landed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on a flight from Zurich, Switzerland. He, according to the judge, carried a suitcase containing approximately 14 pounds of heroin. When security officials saw his luggage, they smelt a rat and upon further frisking, they arrested him. With the hope of a lighter sentence, perhaps, Hayes started singing like a canary. Apart from agreeing to cooperate, he revealed that he was a member of a group of smugglers bringing heroin into the United States. The suspect, as the judge wrote, revealed the identity of several co-conspirators, “who named others, ultimately bringing down the entire conspiracy”.
Therefore, the US government eventually brought charges against 14 suspects, including Kashamu, who lived in Benin Republic. These were Nicholas Jr Fillmore, two-count charge; Mark Benzer, three-count; Brian Christman, four-count; Edward Steinbeigle, five-count; Catherine Cleary Walters, six-count; Bary James Blow, seven-count; Michael Barnard Pudvah, eight-count; Ellen Furman Wolters, nine-count; Peter John Stebbins, 10-count; Chris Malomo, 11-count; Meredith Morford, 12-count; Shane Donaldson, 13-count; Piper Kerman, 14-count; Buruji Kashamu, 15-count (see box).
While 11 among them pleaded guilty, the only one who went on trial was Stebbins. His conviction came after seven of his co-defendants testified against him, wrote the judge. “With respect to certain identification issues, one or more of the female co-defendants testified that they had engaged in personal sexual relations with Kashamu,” wrote Justice Norgle, adding that the court sentenced them to prison terms of varying lengths. Many of them have been released from custody after serving their sentences, while two, as the judge revealed, remain at large in the case. One of them, as the judge put it, is Kashamu. For this reason, the United States wants him extradited to come and face charges, a development that became raw material for Obasanjo’s volley.
In fact, there were two major developments in the investigation that showed Kashamu’s alleged complicity in narcotics deals. First was the telephone conversation between him and one of the accused persons, Fillmore, at 3.26pm on 5 June 1996, recorded by Task Force Police Officer, Dan Morro, and Special Agent Dave Chan. When Fillmore called, it was Nick, Kashamu’s aide, who picked it. However, Fillmore was only referring to “Alaji”. He asked for “Madam” and Fillmore asked whether he should tell her anything. But “Alaji” cautioned himself, saying on telephone that though he would like to talk to “madam” about something, but, “this is not what we can discuss on telephone”. The “madam” in the telephone dialogue was “Alaji’s” accomplice, Wolters, whose sister, Ellen, befriended him.
The two sisters are mentioned in the prison memoir, Orange Is The New Black, written by one of the defendants, Piper Kerman, and published in 2010, five years after she was released from a federal prison in Connecticut. The fictionalised version of this book even became a television hit, the Netfix Series. While Piper Kerman in real prison life becomes a fictional Piper Chapman, David Heinzmann of Chicago Tribune wrote last November that “the central character is the accused drug kingpin, a Nigerian businessman and political boss who has avoided U.S. authorities for 15 years.” According to the Chicago Tribune, Kerman, in her book, makes a few references to “Alaji” but she never mentions Kashamu by name and says she never met him. But her girlfriend, Wolters, “had stayed at his compound (in Benin Repubic) and been subject to ‘witch-doctor’ ministrations and was now considered his sister-in-law.”
Raised in Boston and educated at Smith College, it was after Kerman drifted around the Northampton, Masachussetts campus after she graduated in 1992, working in bars and restaurants, that she started a lesbian relationship with Catherine Wolters, Kashamu’s drug pushing partner. She told Kerman that her high lifestyle was as a result of her helping an African drug dealer move heroin around the globe. Kerman, according to the Chicago Tribune report, admitted to making three overseas trips for the trafficking ring in 1993 and on her second trip, in October of that year, “she acknowledged carrying a suitcase containing about $50,000 on a flight from Chicago to Brussels”.
Although the newspaper reported that Kerman does not identify her former girlfriend by her real name, court records identify the woman as Catherine Cleary Wolters and her sister, Ellen Wolters, who “allegedly had a romantic relationship with Kashamu”. Both women, as the newspaper reported, using court papers, pleaded guilty in the case.
Trouble started for Kerman when her gay partner asked her to graduate beyond carrying cash to drugs for Kashamu. Scared that she might be in deep trouble, she relocated to San Francisco, and according to the report “got a real job, fell in love with a man and eventually moved to New York with him”. As their romance blossomed, her past deals put a spanner in the works. Two federal agents, according to her, showed up at their apartment in New York one day in 1998 and told Kerman “she was under indictment in Chicago”. She knew that the shit had hit the fan.
When Kashamu knew that his name appeared on the list of those being tried and that they had mentioned him in their confessions, he, as Justice Norgle put it, filed separate motions to dismiss and reconsider the charges against him in the US court. That was approximately 11 years after his indictment and several years after many of the individuals he allegedly directed to smuggle heroin had completed their terms of incarceration.
The US court, in order to be equipped with more facts, turned its attention to Kashamu’s 1998 arrest in London and the extradition proceedings that followed. That was an earlier chapter in Kashamu’s drug pushing and money laundering history.
His London Prison Experience
At some point during its investigation into Kashamu’s smuggling activities, the US government, according to the judge, learned that he occasionally travelled to London. Thus, the government requested the issuance of a provisional arrest warrant in England. That was why, on 18 December 1998, British authorities arrested Kashamu when he arrived on an inbound flight to London. He was detained and extradition proceedings were initiated. As the process went on, he spent five years.
Over the years, a series of Chicago lawyers have, as Chicago Tribune put it, argued on Kashamu’s behalf, most recently in an unsuccessful 2011 appeal to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, attempting to have the charges dismissed. While Kashamu has always sworn by his ancestors that the “Alaji” who was always mentioned was his dead brother and that he had been mistakenly identified by everybody involved in the case, the US government waved that argument off, since the witnesses, including Wolters, his mistress, mentioned him.
“We’re still trying to figure out ways we can fix this for Buruji,” his Chicago lawyer, Scott Frankel, told Chicago Tribune, adding: “They’re trying to bring this guy back and then have a bunch of people who haven’t seen him in years testify that he’s the guy.”
Court records reveal how, in spring and summer 2000, Kashamu’s Chicago lawyer, Thomas A. Durkin, contacted Fitzgerald in New York and, as the newspaper reported, sought to make a deal for Kashamu in exchange for information about the 1993 World Trade Centre bombers, whom Fitzgerald was then prosecuting in New York.
After the 9/11 attacks, Scotland Yard investigators, according to the report, paid several visits to Kashamu in London’s Brixton Prison and received his written statements about terrorism information he had gleaned in the jail, according to an affidavit written by a Brixton officer that was filed in court records.
During meetings with him in prison, the investigators, as Chicago Tribune quoted, “thanked Mr. Kashamu for the information and stated it was extremely useful. They then continued to ask about terrorists living in London who were linking with a terrorist who had been arrested in Washington,” the officer wrote in his affidavit. “In concluding his … meeting, they confirmed that the U.S. government found the information extremely valuable.”
According to Justice Norgle, the British court, however, quashed the order of extradition, “finding that the United States had failed to disclose that one of its cooperating witnesses, had failed to identify Kashamu from an arrest photograph. It is not clear from the record whether any of the other co-defendants were involved in an identification hearing. Following this decision, British authorities released Kashamu,” the judge wrote.
However, when the United States repeated its request for Kashamu’s extradition, British authorities, according to the US court document, arrested him again. After receiving evidence, including the testimony of Nigerian Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, officials regarding Kashamu’s cooperation with that agency in several investigations, the British court concluded that Kashamu’s brother, a heroin dealer in Nigeria and Benin, was the individual sought by the United States. The British court, therefore, ruled that Kashamu has a brother who bears a striking resemblance to him and that his brother was one of the co-conspirators in the drugs importation that involved Catherine and Ellen Wolters…” This led to the dismissal of the case by the British court.
This made Kashamu to boldly file two motions to dismiss the case against him on 3 February 2009, asserting that the British court’s finding that he is not the individual the United States seeks should bar the United States from any further prosecution of him. But on 25 September 2009, the court declined. The US court cited a law providing that individuals “who seek to evade prosecution by either actively avoiding the authorities, or, like Kashamu, remaining in a geographic location out of the authorities’ reach, may not seek favourable rulings from a court in the jurisdiction they are avoiding”. Not satisfied, Kashamu filed a motion to reconsider his matter on 10 November 2009, citing the case of one Ali Hijazi, a Lebanese, who was indicted in the Central District of Illinois for fraud. The Kuwaiti government indicated that it would not turn over Hijazi to the United States, even though Hijazi had voluntarily surrendered to the police in Kuwait. Hijazi, through his lawyer, wanted the US court to dismiss the case, but it asserted that the court should hold the motion in abeyance until Hijazi appeared before the court and was arraigned.
While Kuwait has no extradition treaty with the US, Nigeria has and on this score, America does not want to let go of Kashamu. Moreover, since the case of Hijazi is suspended, pending his appearance, the US also wants Kashamu to apear first before considering any of his prayers. Worse still, one of the US documents reveals that there is no indication that Kashamu has surrendered to Nigerian authorities. Rather, he is courted by the Goodluck Jonathan government to help win over the South-West to the PDP in the 2015 general elections.
Kashamu’s lawyers also filed a motion to quash his arrest warrant and to dismiss his indictment, claiming that the U.S. government’s unsuccessful attempts to extradite him from the United Kingdom “preclude the government from continuing its current efforts to prosecute him”.
The U.S. court document reveals further that Kashamu claimed cooperating with NDLEA during investigation into drug-smuggling activities in that country.
Specifically, Kashamu argues that the British court’s finding that he is not the individual who directed the heroin smuggling ring should stop any further prosecution of him for crimes related to that smuggling operation. In making this argument, Kashamu relies on the “The Double Jeopardy Clause, which protects against a second prosecution for the same offence after acquittal, a second prosecution for the same offence after conviction, and multiple punishments for the same offence.”
However, the judge submitted that this cannot apply to Kashamu because he has not been convicted, acquitted, or punished for his role as the alleged kingpin of the smuggling ring, arguing: “In fact, he has not yet been prosecuted, as the government’s extradition attempts to date have not been successful…”
The court, therefore, determined that Kashamu’s motion to dismiss his case “will remain denied.” In other words, he is still a wanted man in the United States.
Kashamu’s Evasion of Law and the NDLEA Connection
Kashamu engaged a lawyer, Akhtar Raja of Maddox House, I Maddox Street London, who swore to an affidavit on 2 May 2000, saying that he took over his matter in December 1999 from another firm of solicitors. The counsel said that in the course of preparing to defend Kashamu, he was given a series of correspondence between Kashamu and NDLEA, the Benin Interpol, which is a department within the Ministry of Interior, and the Lome Interpol in Togo.
Some of the documents reveal that Kashamu was cooperating closely with the above stated organisations “by providing important information relating to various unlawful activities engaged in by individuals, such as arms, smuggling, money laundering and dealings in hard drug”. For example, in one of his “letters” to NDLEA, he identified his own younger brother, Alhaji Adewale Adeshina Kashamu, as the leader of a drug ring and he specifically named Fillmore (one of those investigated in the US) as the group’s Chicago boss. In one of such letters to NDLEA, Kashamu purportedly explained the group’s activities as stretching across Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Thailand, Jakarta, Brazil and the US.
Moreover, each time Kashamu provided NDLEA with information, the documents showed the agency acknowledging in writing, to show that he was a “cooperator’. One of these was dated 2 June 1993, acknowledging Kashamu’s “series of letters of information to this agency on the activities of the group who are engaged in drug trafficking and other crimes”.
However, all these crumbled as fake documents when, in series of letters written by Diana MacArthur, Assistant US Attorney, Northern Districts, Illinois, enquired about whether Kashamu was, at any point, “a cooperator”. NDLEA wrote back on 8 May 2002, that the man “has never been (its) cooperator”.
Another subterfuge employed by Kashamu was that his brother, not he, was the drug baron and that he was dead. While NDLEA earlier claimed that Kashamu’s brother died in the custody of Nigeria Customs Service, the agency, in its 8 May 2002 letter, argued that when Kashamu’s counsel came up with a Nigerian passport issued in 1990, after the said Adewale Kashamu was said to have died, the passport office confirmed that it was issued by it. Usman Amali, special assistant to the chairman, wrote: “Since passports are not issued to the dead, it became difficult to continue to assert our earlier conclusion that Adewale Kashamu died in the custody of Nigeria Customs Service before the establishment of NDLEA in 1989.”
There is actually more than meets the eye in these contradictions.
Extradition Process (Investigations)
In her letter to Kevin Smith, US department of Justice, Office of International Affairs, Washington DC, dated 3 October 2000, Diana MacArthur, Assistant US Attorney, gave blow-by-blow steps she took to investigate Kashamu and all the claims of his lawyers.
MacArthur first learnt of Kashamu’s cooperation in June 2000, when she received copies of his May 2000 submission in the London extradition proceedings. The Assistant Attorney wrote that Kashamu claimed to have cooperated with authorities in Benin, Togo and Nigeria and that Adewale Adeshina Kashamu, not himself, was involved in drug trafficking.
According to MacArthur, who had been involved in the case since late 1997: “I had never before heard of any cooperation by Kashamu or that Kashamu had an alleged brother. Kashamu himself did not even raise the claims until May 2000, approximately 17 months after his arrest and one year after a court in London had ordered his extradition to the United States.”
After receiving submission (through his counsel, that is), MacArthur requested that United States Customs Special Agent, Wade Usyak, arrange for Interpol in Washington DC to issue requests to Benin, Togo and Nigeria for information about Kashamu’s alleged cooperation and his alleged brother. On 30 June 2000, MacArthur received a facsimile transmission from Interpol Togo stating that the “Anti-Narcotics Brigade of the Judicial Police Central Administration” did not know Buruji Kashamu. However, Interpol Nigeria and Benin did not respond to their Washington counterparts about information on Kashamu. In fact, MacArthu was in contact with Thomas A. Durkin, Kashamu’s attorney in Chicago, to contact Interpol in Nigeria and Benin.
Therefore, MacArthur said the extradition of Kashamu to the US should proceed, believing that a prima facie case had been established in support of it. In the words of MacArthur: “The issues of Kashamu’s cooperation and identity are defences, which Kashamu may raise to the charges against him once he is extradited to the United States. These issues, in light of the prima facie case for extradition which has already been established, should not in my opinion, serve as a bar to the extradition itself.”
The Man Buruji Kashamu
Buruji Kashamu (also known as Eso Jinadu) was born on 19 May 1948 at Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State. According to his own website, he is the Chairman and Chief Executive of Kamal Group of Companies Limited.
.Published by TheNEWS Magazine