LAGOS, Nigeria — 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, where he beat 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 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.
Kashamu said that court found the United States had withheld evidence that a chief conspirator had failed to identify him in a photo lineup. U.S. court papers only say that Kashamu was identified by two conspirators.
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.”
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.
A dozen people long ago pleaded guilty in the case including American Piper Kerman, whose memoir about her jail time was adapted for 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 said in a statement to the AP that he already has been exonerated by the British court.
“I have never lived in or visited the United States of America and have never been involved in any narcotics or criminal activities in the United States of America,” he said. “I am a free citizen of Nigeria, an employer of labor and a politician with legitimate sources of income. I do not have anything to hide. I am neither afraid of anyone nor am I running away from the law.”
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has chastised President Jonathan for his perceived protection of Kashamu and warned that “drug barons … will buy candidates, parties and eventually buy power or be in power themselves.”
Kashamu has said that Obasanjo did not call him a drug baron while he spent some $20 million ensuring their party’s success at 2011 elections.
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.
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