A Nigerian energy mogul named Kola Aluko who owns a $51 million penthouse in Manhattan is being probed in Nigeria and Europe for possible money laundering.
According to a Nigerian court, the country has attempted to freeze Aluko’s assets, including his Manhattan penthouse located on the 79th floor of the One57 building across from Central Park.
He is being accused of engaging in money laundering as part of a scheme to steal oil sale profits from the Nigerian government.
As of last year, however, a Nigerian court was having trouble locating him to serve him with court documents. Some speculate that he is traveling around the world on a 213 foot yacht named the Galactica Star.
In 2015, the ship was seen sailing in the Mediterranean. It also was seen in Cancun last year, and it could be docked in Turkey now.
He also owes a $25,000 property tax bill for his Manhattan penthouse, and the property could be put up for sale to pay the past due bill if he does not show up soon.
Aluko is a well known petroleum and aviation mogul who is one of the four defendants who has been accused of cheating Nigeria out of $1.8 billion owed to the national government on huge sales of oil. In another investigation, authorities in Nigeria are probing whether the mogul was part of smuggling millions of dollars from the country in the form of kickbacks to the former petroleum minister of the country.
Aluko is part of a group of Nigerian oil executives, military officials, state governors and cabinet ministers that work work in a law firm called Mossack Fonseca. That organization has been involved in using other companies to buy boats and homes in London for many in this group.
The number of Nigerians that are caught up in this scandal is likely not a coincidence. Nigeria reportedly loses more money each year from illegal activities, including graft and corporate tax abuse, than any other nation in Africa. It is believed that as much as 12% of Nigeria’s annual GDP is lost in illegal activity.
Aluko is part of a circle of big oil traders that are often speculated on in Nigeria. He has a flamboyant lifestyle that has earned him a reputation as a playboy. He purchased an apartment in Manhattan for $9 million and has paid more than $70 million for four homes in Beverly Hills and Santa Barbara.
The government in Nigeria won a federal court order in May 2016 to freeze all assets associated with Aluko and the two companies he runs. The Lagos High Court order listed that the following Aluko assets be frozen: a 200 foot yacht, four homes in California, two Manhattan penthouses, one in Dubai, 132 homes and apartments in Nigeria, and land in Switzerland and Canada. The order also stated that Aluko may not sell or dispose of $67 million in four bank accounts in Switzerland and London, as well as a 58 car collection and three airplanes.
Aluko stated last year that he has never been prosecuted or convicted in any country in the world. He stated at the time that he was aware there was a criminal investigation had started in the UK but he said he did not know of any law enforcement actions taken against him.
Other news reports state that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.K.’s National Crime Agency, and Switzerland’s Attorney General are all investigating Aluko’s role in transactions and companies that have been used to hid the transfer of wealth outside of Nigeria.
At his peak of popularity, Aluko was a world playboy and globetrotter whose face was often seen in the entertainment tabloids and in celebrity Instagram pictures. When he was seen in Paris in 2013 in the fall, the Nigerian media buzzed with the possibility that he was dating Naomi Campbell.
That year, he also launched a $500 million infrastructure development fund along with Jamie Foxx, a well known actor in Hollywood. It was in 2015 that rumors started to swirl that Aluko may be involved in illegal activities.
According to Ross Delston, an attorney in Washington DC and an expert on money laundering, banks and other financial institutions should be cautious when they are working with clients who are in the oil business, or are supposed to have connections with politicians.
He also noted that companies should be skeptical of clients who are the subjects of negative media from countries such as Nigeria, which are well known for corruption and money laundering.
It remains to be seen if and when Aluko will be brought up on money laundering and other charges in the US, Europe and Nigeria. At this time, he cannot be located. Until he is found and is extradited to one of these countries, this case will continue to be unresolved.