Washington, May 22: If legislators in the world’s most populous democracy got caught on film taking cash for asking questions in parliament, can their counterparts in the world’s most powerful democracy be far behind?
Reminiscent of last year’s “questions for cash” scandal involving Indian MPs, a US Congressman has been videotaped accepting $100,000 from a “businesswoman”, who was, in reality, a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) informant.
FBI agents, who also recorded conversations between him and the businesswoman, later recovered most of the bribe money from a freezer in the Congressman’s home.
On Saturday, the FBI made history by raiding the Capitol Hill office of a sitting Congressman for the first time. The raid lasted more than 18 hours.
Although an 83-page court affidavit lists in detail the sequence of events surrounding a 14-month corruption probe against William Jefferson, a member of the House of Representatives from New Orleans, Louisiana, he is yet to be charged with any crime.
The FBI film of the sting operation has Jefferson and the businesswoman, Lori Mody, meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Arlington, Virginia and later going to the trunk of Mody’s car.
The affidavit said: “Congressman Jefferson reached in and removed a reddish-brown coloured leather briefcase which contained $100,000 in cash”. He put the briefcase in his car and drove off. The FBI subsequently recovered $90,000 from Jefferson’s freezer. The money was in marked currency notes.
The hundred-dollar bills were wrapped in aluminum foil and stuffed inside containers meant to store frozen food.
Mody, 42, a Virginia investor and a leader of Fairfax county’s Computer Learning Centers Partnership, began working with the FBI on the sting operation after she became suspicious that Jefferson and some of his associates were trying to defraud her of millions of dollars of her investment in a high-tech company in Louisville, Kentucky.
According to the affidavit, even as Mody, wearing the FBI’s recording devices was taping her conversations with the Congressman, he is heard telling her: “All these damn notes we are writing to each other as if we are talking as if the FBI is watching.”
The money given to Jefferson was ostensibly meant to bribe Nigeria’s vice-president Atiku Abubakar to promote her company’s interests in Nigeria. Abubakar has a home in Maryland and a wife who lives there.
A few months ago, Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a Vietnam war-hero, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for taking huge bribes.