By Ise-Oluwa Ige
About three months ago, the United Kingdom requested the Federal Government for legal assistance in the investigation and prosecution of a London-based broker firm, African Development Fund Incorporation (ADFI), over alleged conspiracy and money-laundering.
ADFI, in the letter by UK to the Federal Government, was accused to have criminally conspired with some top officials of Akwa Ibom and Delta states, four years back, to launder monies running into millions of dollars for them under the guise of handling the sales of shares owned by the two states in V-Mobile, a telecommunication firm.
Specifically fingered in the deal as accomplices in the alleged money-laundering crime were former Delta State Governor, Chief James Onanefe Ibori; former Akwa Ibom Governor, Chief Obong Victor Attah and David Edevbire, the incumbent Principal Private Secretary to President Yarâ€™Adua.
Both Ibori and Attah were allegedly involved in the crime to the extent that they not only okayed the purchase and sale of the shares acquired in the telecommunication firm while they held powers in their respective states but that they allegedly hired the London broker firm with criminal intention to launder the proceeds of the sales for themselves under the guise of handling the transaction for the two states.
Edevbire was also said to be involved in the deal simply because he allegedly signed the agreement between the ADFI and Delta for the sale of the stateâ€™s shares.Â Edevbire is presently the incumbent Principal Private Secretary to President Yarâ€™Adua.Â In the formal request by the United Kingdom on the Federal Government, it is asking for details of the comprehensive investigations conducted on the matter by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to nail its corporate citizen, ADFI, in a London court.
The letter of June 17, 2009 by the UK Government which complied with the procedures of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between Nigeria and Britain was signed by the Secretary of State, Home Office, Judicial Cooperation Unit of the United Kingdom.
It was addressed to the Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Mike Andoakaa (SAN), being the appropriate central authourity in Nigeria to act on such request.
Upon the receipt of the request, Andoakaa who said he was not aware that EFCC ever conducted such investigation, pronto, wrote a letter to the anti-graft agency, Mrs Farida Waziri, demanding for details of its investigation on the issue. Waziri, a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police and Chairman of the EFCC, replied the Attorney-General of the Federation to the effect that it was true that such allegation existed but that after the commission thoroughly investigated it, no prima facie case was established against the London broker firm.
She said that the money paid into the firmâ€™s account which EFCC suspected was proceeds of crime was a genuine professional fee entitled to by ADFI. She communicated the position to Andoakaa by a letter dated June 30, 2009. The letter which was personally signed by Mrs Farida M Waziri (AIG, rtd) reads in part, â€œyour letter with reference number HAGF\EFCC\2009\Volume 18 dated June 29, 2009 on the above subject-matter refers.
Based on the above mentioned findings, the case was referred to the legal unit of the commission for legal advice. The legal unit in their opinion stated that there is no prima facie case of conspiracy, stealing and money laundering established against the suspects (ADFI),â€ she said. Upon the acknowledgment of Mrs Farida Waziriâ€™s response to his enquiries, Andoakaa and after sighting the said legal opinion, Andoakaa directed the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Alh Salihu Aliyu to do a reply to the UKâ€™s request. He also forwarded the findings of the EFCC to the Home Office of the UK.
In the letter by the Federation Director of Public Prosecution, Alh Aliyu, cleared the air on the status of Edevbire in the transaction. The said letter reads:Â â€œkindly refer to your letter dated June 17, 2009 in respect of the above subject-matter. â€œI have been directed to forward the report of the EFCC enclosed as Annexure A and to state that the report is self explanatory. I am also directed to forward Appendix 1 which reveals that Dr S O Okpokpor was the signatory rather than David Edevbie as alluded to in the documentation in support of the request for mutual legal assistance. I am, to further inform you that in view of the foregoing, we are of the informed opinion that Mr David Edevbie is not connected with the above transaction as to require his investigation and or prosecution. Please accept the assurance of the attorney generalâ€™s regard and highest consideration,â€ he said.
Notwithstanding the position of Federal Government on the matter, the UK Government charged ADFI to court alongside Ibori, Attah and Edevbire based on its own independent investigation. But the UK Government needed the consent of Nigeria to get the trio of Ibori, Attah and Edevbire to London for trial. Andoakaa however, stood his ground that he would not consent to their trial off-shore having been cleared by EFCC.
It was at this juncture that Andoakaa (SAN) addressed a press conference, a week ago, in Abuja during which he stated that he would not shift ground on his position for more reasons than one including that all the accused persons in the charge before London court had been cleared by the Nigeria EFCC of any crime. Besides, he said all the ingredients of the offence domiciled in Nigeria and that there was no way they could be tried off-shore if there was still any offence in relation to the sale of their statesâ€™ share in V-Mobile through ADFI.
He said, by the way, the nexus between Ibori, Attah together with Edevbire on one hand and the alleged money-laundering crime on the other hand was the London-based firm, (ADFI) which had already been cleared by EFCC.Â He also said that the insistence by UK to go ahead and prosecute the accused persons, particularly Edevbire was to tarnish the image of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua government and his anti-corruption crusade when David Edevbire, the Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s aide, never signed any agreement.
But 24 hours after Andoakaa (SAN) made the clarifications in Abuja in a press conference, EFCC came with a veiled rebuttal to the effect that the ex-governors were not yet cleared. But it was silent on whether or not the ADFI that was accused of laundering monies for the ex-governors was cleared. The conflicting positions of both EFCC and the Attorney-General of the Federation galvanized some individuals and organizations including the Conference of the Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) to call for Andoakaaâ€™s resignation.
But Andoakaa,Â who said that he stood by his position on the matter categorically said that he would not resign his office. He said that those making comments on the issue were doing that from the stand-point of ignorance of the facts of the case.He said if those making the unfounded calls had waited to get all the facts of the case, he said their opinion would have been different. he said he was working based on the facts of the case and that he would not allowe himself to be intimidated.
He said, â€œI will not believe that EFCC said that the ex-governors have not been cleared on the issue of the professional fee paid to the ADFI.Â What I believed the EFCC Chairman could have said was that the fact that they have been cleared on this issue of the professional fees paid to the ADFI does not mean that other investigations on other issues are not on-going.
I think she might have been quoted out of context. â€œUntil she faces me and says it by herself that the ex-governors have not been cleared on this issue of the legal fees paid by the ex -governors to ADFI,Â I will refuse to believe that was what she said.
So, I wont join issues based on mere rumours. In any event, even if EFCC had said that, I cant see any conflict in what I have said and what EFCC is saying. â€œThe issue in question is the professional fee and brokerage paid by these ex -governors to ADFI with respect to the sale of the shares owned by their respective states in V-Mobile which a petition investigated by the EFCC described as money-laundering and another allegation that David Edevbire, the Private Principal Secretary to President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua was involved in the signing of the agreement between the ADFI and the ex-governors.
â€œI have said that David Edevbire was not involved in any way in the deal and that the attempt to bring in his name is only to tarnish the image of the government of President Umaru Yarâ€™Adua and rubbish his anti-corruption war. And I will not allow that. Never, I will not. I am not talking from the air.
The facts are there and they are sacred. I have said that the Federal Government would refuse prosecution of any Nigerian before a London court on offences which ingredients are domiciled in Nigeria. The court case by EFCC started in Nigeria against the ADFI itself has been withdrawn by EFCC upon its discovery that no prima facie case stood against the incorporation. I have no problem with EFCC. We have a cordial working relationship. Thank you.,â€ Andoakaa (SAN) said.
Although the Attorney-General of the Federation had maturely handled the issues arising from conflicting positions maintained by his office and that of the EFCC on the clearance of the ex-governors, the fact remains that all is not well between the two offices.
According to a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr Frank Ojudu, he said that it is not in doubt that the Attorney-General of the Federation exercises supervisory powers over a number of agencies including the EFCC. He said he would have expected a better conduct from the EFCC on this issue.
He said while it would be misleading for the Attorney-General to say that some exgovernors have been cleared when in fact they are still under probe, he said the conflict that eventually arose from the attempt by EFCC to correct what it saw as misrepresentation could have been done through a memo.
â€œIf I get both of them (AGF and the EFCC) right on this issue of clearance, I think they are saying the same thing but in a different way. We call this by-passing in communication. Andoakaa is saying that the corporate citizen of London (ADFI) that links the two ex-governors and the Yarâ€™Aduaâ€™s aide has been cleared by EFCC.
If ADFI accused of laundering monies for the ex-governors has been cleared, in my own humble view, the ex-governors too have been cleared because there is no way you can sustain a charge against them without establishing first that the ADFI is indeed laundering monies for them.
â€œOn the other hand, EFCC is also right to say that the ex-governors have not been cleared if the signal being sent to the public is that they have been cleared of all corruption allegations pending against them.
But both of them could have given the impression that they are not working at cross-purposes if they had resolved this through the use of memo. If I were President Yarâ€™Adua, I would have queried the Attorney-General of the Federation if he does not sanction Farida for issuing that contradictory position to embarrass the Federal Government. And come to think of it: Who is Farida working for?
â€œBut for the circumstances under which Nuhu Ribadu left office and the signal of sacking Farida would send to the public, I would have suggested that Waziri should be removed. Yes, we are fighting corruption. We are yet to get there but that does not mean that we must help others to destroy our country. Nigeria belongs to us all,â€ he added.