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Nigerian Opposition Leaders Seek Probe of Indicted Presidential Aide

The Nigerian government is under pressure to investigate money laundering charges against a senior presidential aide. The official was indicted by a U.S court for bringing undeclared cash into the United States aboard a Nigerian presidential jet in 2003. Gilbert da Costa reports for VOA that this is seen as a real test of the presidents anti-corruption drive.

The revelation that Andy Uba, special assistant on domestic matters to President Olusegun Obasanjo, was indicted on charges of smuggling cash into the United States, has provoked strong reactions from Nigeria's opposition.

Uba was charged in a civil suit by American prosecutors for smuggling $170,000 in 2003, while traveling with the Nigerian president to the U.N. General Assembly session.

Uba gave the money to his American girlfriend who later bought a Mercedes Benz car for shipment to Uba in Nigeria. She also used it to pay for farm equipment for the president's farm in Nigeria.

Uba was never arrested and the matter was settled by a U.S. court just six weeks ago. He paid an undisclosed fine and the court also ordered the forfeiture of $26,000 of the smuggled money.

U.S. law prohibits bringing more than $10,000s into the country without a declaration at the point of entry.

The U.S. case was first reported in the Nigerian press Tuesday.

News reports say Uba has offered to resign.

The Obasanjo government is playing down opposition calls for an investigation by Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Nigerian presidential political adviser Akin Oshontokun says reports of the case are a distortion of the facts.

"There is no substance to the story. Anybody can just concoct fiction," Oshontokun said. "There is no substance to it. That is just my reaction. Andy is not an issue here. Andy is just an aide to the president. They are free to call for an investigation. That is their own opinion and EFCC will oblige them. Let them present their case to the investigating authorities. The authorities will oblige them if they have evidence to back it up. Everybody can be investigated, including the president."

Opposition politicians say they will continue pressing for an investigation.

Lai Mohammed of Action Congress, an opposition party, says nothing short of a full criminal investigation would be acceptable.

"We want an investigation. We want the national assembly to wade in. It is quite disheartening that a government ... whatever little credibility they have today, is anchored on probity, should be dishonest," Mohammed said. We gave several instances that it is only those on the wrong side of their book that EFCC is unleashed upon. We support the crusade against corruption because no country can move forward without fighting corruption. But we do not want a selective approach."

Analysts say the Uba case presents a test of the president's anti-corruption campaign. Critics have alleged the campaign has been selective, targeting opponents of the president.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which is leading the campaign against corrupt and self-serving officials, appears reluctant to begin the investigation. Chairman Nuhu Ribadu says the body will act only if U.S. authorities request the commission's intervention.

President Obasanjo has faced calls to resign in the wake of corruption allegations by his estranged vice president.