A man indicted in the United States for allegedly smuggling heroin, in a case that was the basis for the TV hit “Orange Is The New Black,” has been elected a senator in Nigeria.
Buruji Kashamu was little known before he returned home in 2003 from Britain, despite a U.S. extradition order, to become a major financier of President Goodluck Jonathan’s party.
Election results posted late Wednesday identified Kashamu as senator-elect in southwest Ogun state. Opponents are challenging his victory in court, saying ballots were rigged.
Kashamu’s spokesman, Austin Oniyokor, said it was important to clarify there is not “any order for extradition by any court whether in Nigeria, or the U.K. or the U.S. or anywhere.”
Kashamu, 56, has said he is “a clean businessman” and that the 1998 indictment by a grand jury in the Northern District of Illinois for conspiracy to import and distribute heroin in the United States is a case of mistaken identity. He has said Chicago prosecutors really want the dead brother he closely resembles.
A British court refused a U.S. extradition request in 2003 over uncertainty about Kashamu’s identity, freeing him after five years in jail. He was found carrying $230,000 when he was arrested.
Last year, Chicago Judge Richard Posner refused a motion to dismiss Kashamu’s case. The September 2014 decision from the Court of Appeal 7th Circuit quoted the U.S. Justice Department as saying that “the prospects for extradition have recently improved” but noted that “Given Kashamu’s prominence … the probability of extradition may actually be low.”
A dozen people long ago pleaded guilty in the case including American Piper Kerman, whose memoir about her jail time became the Netflix hit “Orange Is The New Black.” Kerman’s book never identified Kashamu by name, but there is a West African drug kingpin whom she calls “Alhaji” — meaning one who has completed the haj or pilgrimage to Mecca. Kashamu was identified from a photo lineup as Alhaji by two conspirators, Posner’s judgment said.
It said that if Kashamu was the ringleader of the drug gang, he could face a sentence as heavy as life imprisonment and suggested that if he is innocent he should fly to Chicago to prove it in court.
In Nigeria, Kashamu won an order preventing the attorney general from extraditing him. He had argued that his political enemies were trying to hurt him with the threat of extradition. But an appeals court last year overturned that order.
President Jonathan’s perceived protection of Kashamu caused Olusegun Obasanjo, a former president, to warn that “drug barons … will buy candidates, parties and eventually buy power or be in power themselves.”
Kashamu is suing Obasanjo for libel for stating that he is a fugitive from U.S. justice. He had won a court order halting publication of Obasanjo’s autobiography but a judge this week rescinded it, saying Kashamu had misled the court.
President-elect Muhammadu Buhari, a former military dictator, has promised to fight corruption. That has alarmed many politicians in a country where corruption is endemic.