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British banks handled suspect Nigerian funds: report

Banks in Britain handled millions of pounds for two Nigerian ex-governors accused of corruption, an anti-graft watchdog said Monday in a report urging stronger measures to stop money laundering.

The report from Global Witness says British banks Barclays, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and NatWest, along with Swiss bank UBS, held accounts for either Diepreye Alamieyeseigha or Joshua Dariye, two Nigerian ex-state governors.

Citing court documents and other sources, it details suspect transactions involving the two politicians between 1999 and 2005 and says banks should do more to determine whether the sources of such funds are legitimate.

“Without access to the international financial system, it would be much harder for corrupt politicians from the developing world to loot their national treasuries or accept bribes,” the report says.

“By taking money from such customers, British banks are fuelling corruption, entrenching poverty and undermining international development assistance.”

The report contrasts the lifestyles of the two ex-governors with deep poverty in Nigeria, a country long held back by corruption and where vast oil resources have failed to translate into social progress.

Alamieyeseigha, who was governor of Bayelsa state in the oil-producing Niger Delta, pleaded guilty to money laundering in 2007. Dariye, former governor of Plateau state, has been accused of corruption by Nigerian authorities.

UBS said in a statement that it would “study the report to identify areas where further improvements in dealing with politically exposed persons may be possible.” Politically exposed persons is a technical term for those seen as posing a higher risk for corruption.

“UBS is fully committed to protecting the integrity of the financial marketplace by maintaining high standards in anti-money laundering controls,” it said, adding it had introduced anti-money laundering “enhancements” in 2009.

The other banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Global Witness said even though the transactions in the report occurred more than five years ago, it “is still relevant today because the problems that it highlights with the anti-money laundering system still exist.”

The report points out that British banks faced similar accusations over former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha’s assets.