Buhari Asks AGF to Explain His Refusal to Recover N300bn Stashed in Banks

  • Minister denies wrongdoing, defends decision to revoke mandate given to EFCC accuser, George Uboh

By Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

President Muhammadu Buhari has asked the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), to respond to allegations that he refused to recover N300 billion allegedly hidden in some Nigerian banks after his attention was drawn to the money by Dr. George Uboh and his company, Panic Alert Security System (PASS), engaged by the minister to trace the money.

The president’s query was a follow up to two letters of complaints written against the AGF by Uboh and his company, accusing the minister of frustrating efforts to recover the already identified funds.

In his response, Malami denied the allegation and pledged his commitment to recover all stolen monies in line with the position of the federal government.

He also said that he revoked the mandate he gave to PASS and Uboh to recover the monies because Uboh went beyond the mandate given to him.

The minister in his reply to the president through the Office of the Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari, dated 4th April, 2016, said the allegations levelled against him were untrue and baseless.

Uboh had accused Malami of deliberately frustrating his efforts to recover the N300 billion his company, PASS, allegedly traced to some Nigerian banks.

Responding, the minister said: “In demonstration of my firm commitment to the recovery efforts of the government, I gave PASS a letter titled: TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN dated 17th February, 2016, introducing PASS to the aforesaid banks/financial institutions.

“The aforesaid letter of engagement dated 9th February, 2016 and the subsequent letter of introduction dated 17th February, 2016 (‘HAGF Letters’) were given to PASS on the firm understanding that PASS had already identified and/or traced specific FGN funds stashed/trapped in the aforementioned banks and that PASS would promptly embark on processes that would lead to actual recoveries and remittances of the traced funds into the designated account of the FGN in line with the proposals submitted, presentations made, and the terms contained in its letter of 9th February, 2016.”

The minister said he had to revoke the authorisation he gave to Uboh when he discovered that he embarked on a window-shopping mission upon receipt of the letter by going beyond his brief, and embarked on subtle threats to all Nigerian banks, some private individuals and entities solely to shop for data and information to execute the brief contrary to the representations he (Uboh) made to him.

Malami said: “In a manner that clearly demonstrated that PASS was merely on a voyage of discovery and window-shopping, PASS, upon receipt of the letters herein mentioned, went to town and unilaterally expanded the scope of its brief far beyond the 13 banks covered by his brief and embarked on subtle threats to all Nigerian banks, some private individuals and entities solely to shop for data and information to execute the brief contrary to the representations made to me.

“His only defence for the ultra vires were the fraudulent, baseless, unsubstantiated and illogical inferences that my letter of introduction dated 17th February, 2016 had endlessly expanded/enlarged the scope of his instructions while in the actual sense, the said letter was expressly issued pursuant to the February 9, 2016’s letter of engagement earlier given to PASS.

“I was inundated with the excesses of Uboh of PASS and later found out that PASS actually wrote several banks (more than 13 banks), private individuals, corporate entities (national and multinationals), government agencies and virtually all FGN ministries soliciting for data, information, official records, remittances (funds and stocks), and records of whereabouts of all forfeited assets not yet disposed off by some of the FGN agencies, amongst other things.

“For the record, the entities, agencies and private individuals written to by PASS in addition to the 13 banks specifically/actually covered by its mandate include but not limited to the following:

i. All Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; ii. All Managing Directors of 25 Money Deposit Banks (MDBs) in Nigeria; iii. Managing Director, FSDH Merchant Bank Limited; iv. Managing Director, CitiBank Nigeria Limited; v. Managing Director, FBN Holdings Plc; vi. Managing Director, Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON); vii. Immediate Past M.D, AMCON; viii. Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS); ix. Former Chairman, Presidential Amnesty Committee; x. ALGON and some of its past and serving executives; xi. DG/CEO, National Identity Management Commission (NIMC); xii. Chairman, Independent Corrupt Practices & Other Offences Commission; xiii. Inspector General of Police (IG); xiv. Ag. Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); xv. Managing Director, Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC); xvi. Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA); xvii. Ag. Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); xviii. Immediate Past Comptroller General of Customs, Alhaji A. Dikko Inde; xxix. Immediate past AGF & Minister of Justice, Mr. Bello Adoke (SAN); xx. Ex-Minister of State for Finance/Minister of Finance, Mrs. Nenadi Usman; xxi. Immediate past Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio; xxii. Mr. Tony Chukwu (who allegedly executed contracts on behalf of NDDC); xxiii. Managing Director, Technip Offshore Nigeria Ltd.; xxiv. Managing Director, Halliburton Energy Services Ltd.

xxv. Managing Director, Intels Nigeria Ltd.; xxvi. Managing Director, TransOcean; xxvii. Managing Director, Marubeni Nigeria Ltd; xxviii. Managing Director, Nobles Drilling Nigeria Ltd.; xxix. Managing Director, Japanese Gas Corporation Nig. Ltd.;  xxx. Managing Director, Snamprogetti; xxxi. Managing Director, SIEMEMS;  xxxii. Managing Director, Julius Berger Nig. Ltd.; xxxiii. Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria; xxxiv. Accountant General of the Federation; xxxv. Immediate past Executive Secretary, TETFUND, Prof. Sulaiman Bagoro, and other individuals not covered by PASS’ letter of engagement.”

The minister also dismissed as untrue the insinuation that he entered into an “unholy alliance” with the “banking sector mafia” not to cooperate with PASS, and/or that he promised Access Bank that he would call Uboh to soft pedal on the bank.

“I must state that the above allegations are untrue, incorrect, false, a figment of the imagination of the author and a smear campaign by Uboh to tarnish my name. I did not make, never made and will never make any alliance with anyone in and outside of the banking industry to frustrate PASS or any firm from recovering any FGN funds stashed/trapped in the listed banks or any bank or company in Nigeria or elsewhere,” Malami said.

According to the minister, other excesses of Uboh and his company include soliciting and/or requesting bank officials to allow him access to certain encrypted systems in order to enable him extract relevant information to execute the brief without appreciation of the security implications of such a delicate venture on Nigeria’s financial sector and without any prior discussions with and approval from him.

He said Uboh was also going about the execution of the brief in such a manner that would clearly embarrass the federal government, hence his decision to revoke the letter of engagement in order to avert any likelihood of a security breach of high magnitude in the banking sector.

The minister said: “I also gathered that Dr. George Uboh was soliciting and/or requesting bank officials to allow him access to certain encrypted systems in order to enable him extract relevant information to execute the brief without appreciation of the security implications of such a delicate venture on Nigeria’s financial sector and without any prior discussions with and approval from me.

“In view of acting outside the scope of its brief and given the way and manner Uboh was going about the execution of the brief which was clear to me would embarrass the FGN, and in order to avert any likelihood of security breach of high magnitude in the banking sector, I exercised my power under the letter of engagement dated 9th February, 2016 by revoking the letter of engagement I earlier gave PASS vide my letter dated 24th March, 2016.

“My decision to revoke the instructions was further reinforced by the startling revelations, which were not disclosed to me by the personality (Dr. Uboh) that was requesting for those sensitive materials from the banks that he was indeed an ex-convict prosecuted after US law enforcement agents carried out a major raid on a credit card and bank fraud ring led by George Uboh in Georgia in 1992. He reportedly came out of jail on 16th January, 2001.

“Your Excellency, permit me to state emphatically that I did not fail to recover the above captioned sums allegedly traced by PASS as alleged. The fact is that the terms of letter of engagement I gave to PASS on 9th February, 2016 did not only place a duty on PASS to trace funds trapped in the listed banks (which to all intents and purposes PASS did not do prior to my revocation of the letter of engagement of PASS for acting outside its brief), the said letter of engagement imposed on PASS duties to trace, recover and remit FGN’s funds trapped in the 13 banks listed in paragraph 2 of the letter.

“I find it strange to read from PASS that I failed to recover the funds when it was clear that PASS had a duty to trace, recover and remit the funds with me providing requisite instructions and authority for PASS to do so which I did.

“To demonstrate my willingness, readiness and fidelity to the recovery exercise, I did not only give PASS a letter of engagement on the 9th February, 2016, I went further to give a letter introducing PASS to the 13 banks covered by its brief on the 17th February, 2016, wherein I solicited the requisite cooperation, information and support of the banks to enable it carry out the recovery task on behalf of the FGN.

“Apart from the above, it is worthy of note that PASS did not submit any report to my office showing the trace of the captioned sum or any sum at all upon which one could ascertain if PASS validly/actually traced the sum until after the revocation of the engagement.

“Assuming without conceding that it traced, it was incumbent on it to recover and ensure remittance to the coffers of the FGN which never occurred during the subsistence of the engagement.

“Specifically, the allegation that Access Bank met with me and extracted words of promise to the effect that I would talk to Dr. Uboh to soft pedal on the bank is unfounded and baseless. I state it with all sense of responsibility that no official of any bank or anyone acting for Access Bank or any other bank met with me in connection with PASS’ brief or any other recovery briefs.

“To allege that he sent a warning to me through my personal assistant that I should not call him on Access Bank and that I revoked his engagement because I could not talk to him is outright falsehood and the fact remains that I have never ever made an attempt to call him in life at any time prior to the engagement or thereafter and the idea of passing a warning on account of my purported call does not arise.”

In responding to the allegation that he refused to actualise the mandate given to the Presidential Committee on Asset Verification to be set up to probe the EFCC, Malami said: “Your Excellency would recall that we discussed the need to probe/verify the assets of the EFCC, ICPC and PENCOM, following which Your Excellency gave a directive on the setting up of three separate committees to verify the assets of the above mentioned agencies.

“It is clearly outside the scope of the engagement of Uboh to demand or raise issues that border on the assignment in respect of which I am answerable and accountable to the presidency. My opinion on this issue has been the subject of periodic report to the presidency and my case is put to rest on that basis over this issue.”

On the PASS’ claim that it engaged experts/contractors both in Nigeria and in the UK who purportedly worked with it to achieve ‘tracing’ of N300 billion within 27 days, the AGF said PASS wrote to him after its mandate had been terminated, adding that the company fraudulently backdated the letter to him.

He said: “As a matter of fact, PASS just forwarded a preliminary report fraudulently backdated to 23rd March, 2016 and served same on my office on the 29th March, 2016 after my revocation of its mandate, in order for PASS to create the impression that the report had come in before the revocation.

“The claims of Dr. Uboh to the effect that he had indicated his readiness to submit a preliminary finding on some banks but for my official trip to Dubai was an afterthought and untrue as submission of reports, letters or documents are carried out in my Registry without my involvement before onward delivery to me by the designated officials.

“Assuming without conceding that PASS had intended to submit a report to my office before the revocation, its claim can hold no water given the fact that the same PASS which claimed it had a report to submit could not promptly furnish my office with the documents I demanded within 48 hours of receipt of my revocation letter pursuant to paragraph 5 of the revocation letter dated 24th March, 2016.

“On Dr. Uboh’s claim that he worked under me at the Federal Ministry of Justice, I state that he had never and is not working under me at the Ministry or elsewhere. My decision to revoke PASS’ engagement is in the best interest of Nigeria and it is worthy of note that the issue of the five per cent (5%) fee does not arise as conditions for earning such was not fulfilled in any manner whatsoever by PASS.”

In his letter to Buhari, the minister concluded that the above were his comments on the three petitions forwarded to the president by Uboh on April 4, 2016.

“I did confirm I gave his firm, PASS an instruction to trace, recover and remit FGN’s funds tapped in thirteen (13) banks contained in the letter of engagement I gave him on the 9th February, 2016.

“I further gave him a letter of introduction to the stated banks dated 17th February, 2016 when he asked for it so that he would get the required cooperation and support of the banks.

“However, I revoked the letter of engagement vide my letter dated 24th April, 2016 due to the fact that he acted outside of his brief by unilaterally expanding/extending the scope of the brief as evidenced in paragraph 10 of this reply letter.

“The allegations against me forwarded by Dr. Uboh are baseless and I urge Your Excellency to discountenance them as they are designed to disparage my office,” Malami said.