Abidemi Rufai, a longtime associate of Governor Dapo Abiodun of Ogun, has been a wanted person since 2017 for filing 652 fraudulent tax returns in the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed in the latest court document seen by Peoples Gazette.
Mr Rufai, a top aide on special duties, was suspended by Mr Abiodun following his indictment by the FBI for his role in a $650 million (N312 billion) employment fraud.
In the document, the Nigerian politician charged with “participating in a massive fraud on the United States” has been “doing this for years” and “this is what he does,” a U.S. official told the court recently.
The court heard how Mr Rufai began his fraud schemes with “hurricane relief in 2017, filing false FEMA claims.” He was accused of filing 652 fraudulent tax returns, trolling the internet looking for U.S. programmes.
“He is a fraudster. And he does this while he is hiding behind a keyboard a thousand miles away. This is someone that the IRS has been trying to identify since 2017,” said the U.S. official. “We have now identified him, we have an overwhelming case against him, as the defence has 652, and we have him in custody.”
Mr Rufai, through his counsel, is seeking less strict detention at the home of a relative instead in the U.S., but the U.S. authorities considered him a flight risk.
We have an opportunity to hold him accountable for that … because this defendant has every incentive to flee. He has the capability to flee,” added the U.S. agent. “When he does flee, he’s going to go back, and he is going to do exactly the same thing he did again. Our next calamity,
our relief efforts are going to be his next business opportunity.”
Mr Rufai’s U.S. trial is set for August 31.
Last May, the Seattle Times reported that Mr Rufai was apprehended in New York as he attempted to flee the country.
Mr Rufai appeared before a federal court Saturday on charges alleging he used the identities of more than 100 Washington residents to fraudulently receive over $350,000 in unemployment benefits from the Washington State Employment Security Department during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
A detention hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.
Mr Rufai has lived in Lekki, Lagos, for years as Mr Abiodun’s neighbour and business partner. He appointed him as a special duties aide when he became governor, a position Nigerian political elite usually reserve for trusted associates.
Mr Abiodun himself was exposed as a certificate forger after falsely claiming to have attended colleges and filed fake documents of his several schools. He was never prosecuted for the offence before emerging governor and currently enjoys immunity from criminal charges as a serving governor.
It was not immediately clear whether or not the governor was involved in the fraud or knew about his aide’s exploits. The U.S. complaint against Mr Rufai gave insight into how the pandemic-related fraud was carried out, noting that most of the fraudulent claims that hit the ESD were likely filed outside the U.S.