Prince Buruji Kashamu, a wealthy Nigerian businessman with a checkered past, has surprised many in the southwestern Ogun State by winning a senate seat for president Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP lost most of the seats it contested in this weekend’s elections.
But that isn’t the most remarkable thing about Kashamu.
For 17 years he has been wanted in the United States for allegedly acting as the kingpin of a drug smuggling and money laundering ring. It was the same operation that landed American author Piper Kerman in jail for a year and inspired her memoir Orange Is The New Black. Kashamu strenuously denies the charges and claims it’s a case of mistaken identity; he says the U.S. really wants his late brother.
There has been talk at times in Nigeria about extraditing him to the U.S. But given his strong support of the PDP, which has run Nigeria for the past 16 years, the move always seemed unlikely. Although former president Olusegun Obasanjo wanted him kicked out, he never managed it. Now Kashamu is going to be sworn in as a senator, making the possibility even more remote.
Kashumu has proved an extremely slippery figure for U.S. authorities, as the Chicago Tribune reported in 2013:
The case has frustrated prosecutors here, in part because they once had Kashamu in their grasp but lost him. English authorities arrested him when he landed [in the U.K.] in 1998 and held him for five years during extradition hearings. Ultimately, however, British courts let Kashamu go after ruling that Chicago prosecutors had tainted their eyewitness identification evidence by failing to disclose that one of his co-defendants failed to pick him out of a photo lineup.
Kerman’s 2010 book about her time in jail was adapted into the critically acclaimed Netflix series of the same name. Most of the characters in the TV show are inspired by her experience, but her bosses have not been portrayed as Nigerian. However, Kerman’s book references a Nigerian kingpin known only as “Alaji”:
A little bit of Web research revealed that the man I knew as Alaji was a wealthy and powerful businessman-gangster in Africa, and I could certainly imagine that he might have connections that could make pesky things like extradition treaties go away.
Typically, “Alhaji” is a title used by Nigerian Muslims who have made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Kashumu is Muslim.
The U.S. government’s most recent offer for Kashumu to answer his charges included some helpful travel advice, according to the Chicago Sun-Times:
If the Nigerian politician and businessman who was the alleged kingpin behind that ring wants the case to finally go away, he’ll have to hop on a plane to Chicago, a U.S. Appeals Court has ruled.
And the 7th Circuit was even nice enough to give fugitive Prince Buruji Kashamu a hint where he can find “reasonably priced flights” from Lagos to Chicago—including a link to priceline.com.