|Jonathan Winer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
Statement before the Subcommittee on Africa of the House International Relations Committee
Washington, DC, September 11, 1996
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and members of the committee: Thank you for this opportunity to discuss with other Administration colleagues the problem of Nigerian crime, its negative impact on ordinary Americans, and our domestic and foreign policy initiatives to combat it. Our ability to limit the damage here at home caused by the growing problem of transnational crime has of necessity become one of our main national security concerns. Today, unfortunately, it colors virtually every element of our international agenda, both bilaterally and multilaterally. Before turning specifically to Nigeria, I would like to mention several important developments in the Department of State role in fighting international crime.
President Clinton has made the fight against transnational crime among our highest priorities in the national security sphere. In launching his umbrella strategy against international crime at the UN's 50th Anniversary celebration, the President stressed that "nowhere is cooperation more vital than in fighting the increasingly interconnected groups that traffic in terror, organized crime and drug smuggling." The President's determination that the U.S. make an aggressive attack on this problem has been reflected at the Department of State. More than two years ago, Secretary Christopher expanded my Bureau's responsibilities and asked it to develop national and international strategies for combating transnational crime and to provide ongoing support to U.S. and international law enforcement.
Our goal at the Department of State under Secretary Christopher is to have every Bureau remember that it also has an America's desk, in addition to the desks maintained to cover foreign countries. The Global Affairs component of State headed by Under Secretary Wirth is especially focused on its role as America's desk. At my bureau, given our responsibility for policy and programs to fight narcotics and crime--drugs and thugs--we are constantly thinking of our mission as protecting American citizens and American businesses from the threats posed by transnational narcotics trafficking and crime.
Among State's responses to this "America's Desk" orientation is our agreement to expand U.S. law enforcement presence overseas, adopting a team approach that places this presence at U.S. embassies, overseen by our ambassadors, to insure that law enforcement issues are given a high priority both by our foreign missions and by foreign governments.
In my Bureau, we are developing global and regional strategies for attacking an increasing number of crime problems, including alien smuggling, stolen cars, money laundering, drug trafficking, corruption, and the trafficking in various forms of contraband. In fact, the crime problems which originate in Nigeria and the strategies we are developing to combat them are illustrative of these wider efforts.
Indeed, State is leading an interagency working group focused on Nigerian crime, involving all interested U.S. law enforcement agencies, the intelligence community, the Departments of Justice, Treasury, and Commerce. The most recent meeting of this group at the senior level was this week. The goal of the working group is nothing less than the development and implementation of a comprehensive global plan of action to combat Nigerian crime, involving every relevant component of State, Justice, Treasury, and the intelligence community, some 14 different agencies and bureaus in all.
The Nigerian Threat
Nigeria's size, population and influence in Africa--and increasingly elsewhere in the world--dictate well-defined foreign policy objectives which we are pursuing aggressively. Our law enforcement goals for Nigeria are set in the context of ongoing diplomatic efforts to promote a speedy transition to civilian, democratic rule and respect for human rights. With some $4 billion of U.S. investment in Nigeria, we also have significant economic interests, principally in the petroleum sector. As with every large and influential nation, we also have with Nigeria the objective of enlisting and sustaining Nigeria's cooperation on a range of regional and international issues. We also recognize that, without a doubt, every interest we have in Nigeria, including law enforcement, is directly tied to the Nigerian Government's treatment of its own citizenry according to international standards. Each violation of human rights in Nigeria undermines the rule of law and Nigerian efforts to reintegrate the country into the international mainstream.
Our law enforcement agencies attest that Nigerian criminal enterprises are organized and active in at least 60 countries around the world. They are adaptable, polycrime organizations. They launder money in Hong Kong, buy cocaine in the Andes, run prostitution and gambling rings in Spain and Italy, and corrupt legitimate business in Great Britain with their financial crimes. Nigerian drug trafficking rings are notorious. The presence today of hundreds of convicted Nigerian traffickers in Indian, Pakistani, Thai, Turkish, and other international prisons is indicative of the international reach of the Nigerian crime rings. Nigerian trafficking organizations have continued to evolve. Where once they limited themselves top to bottom to members of ethnic-based clans, they have come to recognize that international law enforcement targets Nigerian nationals. Accordingly, Nigerian trafficking organizations today favor surrogate couriers, especially young women. In the area of white collar crime, the U.S. Secret Service conservatively estimates that Nigerian advance free fraud letter scams cost Americans $250 million a year.
I'd like to provide you with just a few examples of the Nigerian crime problem.
The U.S. Embassy in Lagos reports that it is "inundated" with Nigerian fraud cases, receiving requests for help from U.S. embassies dealing with Americans defrauded by Nigerians all over the world. Last year, the embassy rescued several American citizens lured to Lagos in scams, taken hostage, and held for ransom.
Nigeria's neighbors have even worse problems, as Nigerian criminals literally fan out throughout Africa. Late last year, a businessman from Niger, a close neighbor of Nigeria, was led by Nigerian scammers who lured him to his death. South African officials have advised the U.S. of their deep concern over Nigerian criminal penetration of the entire South African region, including heroin and cocaine trafficking, frauds, car theft, alien smuggling, document fraud, and gang activities. Senior officials in another African country recently reported that Nigerian scam artists have been approaching their nationals with a long, rectangular box said to contain new United States one hundred dollar bills. The schemers say the money has been taken from the U.S. mint or U.S. Treasury, but for security purposes is completely black, requiring a chemical solution to remove the black ink and reveal the note. The schemers show how this is done with one bill as a example, then state that they have no money to buy the chemical solution to wash the rest of the bills. They promise to split the cash in the box if they get a loan for the chemicals to wash the bills. Then, if they get the cash, the scammers, not the black ink, disappear.
As committee members are aware, Nigeria's status as a major drug trafficking country has made the country subject to the narcotics certification process for a number of years. Unfortunately, there is little positive to report in this regard. Nigeria's performance--its failure fulfill the obligations of the UN Convention or to cooperate with the U.S.--has required the President to deny certification to Nigeria for three years in a row.
Among other failings, Nigeria did not properly fund its own national drug control strategy in 1995, was ineffective in addressing problems of corruption in the narcotics and other law enforcement units and made little progress in implementing a new anti-money laundering decree. We did note some progress with the narcotics police, which has continued to address corruption with in its ranks. But taken as a whole, the record is disturbing given the threat which narcotics pose internally for Nigeria, not to mention to many other nations, in every region of the world. In the context of our U.S. law enforcement goals and specific objectives for Nigeria, we will make certain that the Nigerian Government understands that the American Government expects concrete and positive action.
The U.S. Response--Targeting the Nigerian Crime Problem
Understanding that the Nigerian drug problem is a single element of a larger crime threat, the Administration is taking urgent steps to address the problem bilaterally and in concert with other affected countries. In the last month, the National Security Council has directed the Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Bob Gelbard, to develop a comprehensive global action plan to attack Nigerian crime in the foreign policy context in concert with domestic initiatives.
The plan is still receiving additional suggestions from a variety of U.S. agencies, but its basic objectives reflect long-held U.S. law enforcement goals in Nigeria. These include identifying those Nigerian organized crime activities that threaten U.S. national security, and those of its citizens; strengthening U.S. law enforcement capabilities and activities against Nigerian organized crime; fostering change in Nigerian political and legal institutions in order to decrease the threat posed by Nigerian organized crime and to the protect Americans who do business with or visit Nigeria; dismantling Nigerian-controlled drug trafficking and criminal networks around the world; increasing public awareness of the threat posed by Nigerian organized crime; and creating regional capabilities to combat Nigerian organized crime in affected areas of the world.
In addition to going after Nigerian heroin and cocaine trafficking, we are targeting Nigerian financial crimes like 419 frauds, insurance frauds, credit card frauds, and money laundering; Nigerian counterfeiting and false documents; trafficking in persons, including alien smuggling and prostitution, and contraband; and Nigerian corruption. Efforts against these crimes will require not only cooperation among many different parts of the U.S. Government, but with other governments, with the private sector, and ultimately, with the Nigerian Government and people.
Apart from beefing up our own law enforcement activities and working with the government of Nigeria to foster increased Nigerian political will in this vital area, we will seek to facilitate bilateral and multilateral law enforcement efforts, upgrade Nigerian crime and extradition legislation and focus increased attention on financial crimes. An important domestic initiative is to advance general public information programs to educate American citizens and U.S. companies so that they are able to recognize and avoid Nigerian scam operations. In fact, the State Department has had such a public affairs initiative under way for several years and has stepped up the effort since early this year. We hope to expand this program through other agencies, particularly the Department of Commerce.
An important component of the State Department's actions against Nigerian crime is to promote international efforts to combat it. One early success of this initiative was a joint demarche, initiated by State, complaining about 419 advance fee scams, presented by 39 countries jointly to the Nigerian Government. The U.S. intends to continue to apply multilateral pressure on Nigeria to take concrete actions to combat financial crimes and to share intelligence with other countries against Nigerian criminal elements. We are also considering the terms under which we might offer specific training to Nigerian officials in techniques for combating crime. We will only provide such training in the right climate and with appropriate assurances from the Government of Nigeria. Inter alia, we want to ensure that any training we provide does not compromise law enforcement efforts.
Ultimately, effective anti-crime programs require that Nigeria effectively police the criminal elements within its borders. If Nigerian law enforcement officers and judicial officials, do not choose to become partners with their counterparts in the U.S. and the rest of the world, Nigeria risks worsening its current problems, and further undermining its woeful international reputation.
The Road Ahead
The task of fighting Nigerian crime is daunting. The Nigerian Government has--whether intentionally or unintentionally--fostered a climate receptive to criminal activities. Although there is no conclusive evidence, it is widely believed that corruption and criminal activity, especially global and regional financial fraud and narcotics trafficking, are fostered by some the Nigerian elite, some of whom have links to ranking Nigerian Government officials.
Sadly, we have seen little meaningful effort by the Nigerian Government this year to enforce its anti-money laundering decree. We are concerned that protest by bankers may lead to unhelpful government modifications by the government of the decree. Furthermore, the Central Bank of Nigeria, whose offices have been used to commit fraud, and which is itself a itself the victim of huge frauds, still does not have enough staff to implement the decree. Despite the urging of our diplomatic mission and those of other nations, Nigerian law enforcement is underpaid, sometimes entirely unpaid, overworked and hampered by corruption and inefficiency. For these and other reasons, Nigerian law enforcement has still not focused adequately on major drug traffickers or important advance-fee fraud cases.
I am not here to engage in Nigeria bashing. Our relations are too important. We have seen some hopeful signs in the recent past. Nigeria has promulgated an advance fee fraud decree and inaugurated a new inter-ministerial task force on fraud and narcotics. Last July the Nigerian Federal Investigation and Intelligence Bureau (FNIIB) arrested approximately 41 Nigerians in connection with advance fee fraud and shut down several major locations in Lagos where these scams were taking place.
Such activities are helpful, but the government must continue to take concrete steps in a number of important areas to build on or implement fully the positive steps it has begun to take. Nigeria must deal with the roots and manifestations of the problem at home and work seriously with the U.S. and other nations to combat Nigerian criminal networks around the world. The highest law enforcement priorities for the government should include prosecuting and extraditing those involved and instituting an effective legal framework so that once shut down, these criminal enterprises stay out of business.
The Nigerian Government must take responsibility for the welfare of its nation and its people through effective measures to combat the crime which permeates its society. From our own point of view, we have no choice but to adopt a proactive stance.
I thank the committee and the Congress for its continued interest and support.
[end of document]