- Â Concludes arrangement with Switzerland for return of $321m Abacha Loot
Tobi Soniyi in Lagos, Adedayo Akinwale and Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, Thursday said Nigeria had recovered $85 million from the Malabu Restrained Funds in the United Kingdom.
Malami spoke in Abuja at the Pre-Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) and Consultative meeting with the theme: ‘Building an Enduring Framework for Asset Recovery in Nigeria,’ preparatory to GFAR slated for December in Washington DC where he also said the federal government had concluded negotiations with the government of Switzerland for the return of $320 million recovered from the family of former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha.
In 2015, a British judge, Justice Edis of the Southwark Crown Court refused to release $85 million to Malabu, a company controlled by former Minister of Petroleum, Chief Dan Etete.
The $85 million was seized at the request of Italian prosecutors who were also investigating the deal. The money was part of the OPL 245 largesse not yet distributed.
Etete approached the British court and asked that the money be returned to him having sensed that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari was yet to find its feet on international legal matters.
But Justice Edis declared that he was not sure the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan acted in the interest of Nigeria when it approved the money to Malabu.
“I cannot simply assume that the federal government of Nigeria which was in power in 2011 and subsequently until 2015 rigorously defended the public interest of the people of Nigeria in all aspects,” he ruled.
The Jonathan administration controversially approved the transfer of $1.092 billion from Nigeria’s JP Morgan account in London to Nigerian accounts controlled by Malabu.
The former AGF, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, and the former Minister of State for Finance, Alhaji Yerima Ngama, signed the documents approving the transfer to Malabu.
But Malami said Thursday that the money had been released to Nigeria.
“I am also pleased to inform that Nigeria has just recovered the sum of $85 million from the Malabu Restrained Funds in the UK,” the AGF said.
He lamented that the recovery and repatriation of stolen wealth stashed abroad continued to be very tedious despite several bilateral and multilateral agreements entered into between Nigeria and other jurisdictions.
He noted that even when the provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption oblige state parties to facilitate the return of stolen assets to victim states, countries including Nigeria are saddled with some challenges.
According to him, “My office has also put in place necessary machinery to hold bilateral talks with countries of interest during the Global Forum on Asset Recovery. These countries include the United Kingdom, Island of Jersey, Guernsey (and other UK Territories), United State of America, Canada, Switzerland, South Africa, Panama, United Arab Emirates, Northern Island and The Gambia.”
On monies looted by the late Gen. Sani Abacha, he said: “We have indeed concluded the negotiation with Switzerland on the return of $320 million recovered from the late Abacha family. I am pleased to inform that the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) were involved in the negotiation of the Memorandum of Understanding.
“Most importantly, the CSOs will be involved in monitoring the use of the funds. With the conclusion of the negotiation, parties hope to sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at the GFAR and repatriation will follow within weeks as agreed by the parties.”
Malami stressed that Nigeria was willing to support the transparent return of stolen assets, while also calling on the international community to improve on the procedure for faster return of our assets to enable us to meet the sustainable development goals.
He said his office has coordinated the preparations bringing on board all government agencies which mandates fall within the purview of asset recovery.
The minister of justice, therefore, used the forum to reiterate the need for the international community to ensure the implementation of the measures considered and adopted at the London Anti-Corruption Summit in May 2016 which includes: easing the legal technicalities and procedures associated with recovery and repatriation of stolen funds; reducing opportunities and incentives that enable stolen funds to be placed in banks, or laundered through property acquisition and investment in offshore locations, among others.
Meanwhile, the civil society organisations (CSOs), African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Social-Economic and Accountability Project (SERAP), and Open Government Partnership (OGP), have called on the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK) and Switzerland to ensure criminal convictions for foreign bribery and harbouring of developing countries’ looted assets.
The civil groups also said that tracing, tracking and repatriation of looted assets should be given accelerated attention and not bogged down with legal complications by harbouring countries as being experienced by Nigeria.
The Executive Director, ANEEJ, Rev. David Ugolor, said the US, UK and Switzerland should urgently repatriate all looted assets in their countries for the Nigerian government to finance development.
The Swiss Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Eric Mayor, said his government and the government of President Muhammadu Buhari were committed to fighting corruption, adding that the Swiss government changed her legislation in the last decades in order to avoid that stolen monies could be deposited in their banks.
He said Switzerland was the first country to give the looted money back to Nigeria, especially $722 million stolen by the Abacha family in 2005.
“The Swiss justice nevertheless continued its investigation and discovered that other assets were still around and froze hundreds of millions of naira deposited by the Abacha family in other banks, this time not in Switzerland but in Luxembourg,” Mayor noted.
Also, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, H.E Paul Arkwright, said the UK understood the frustration that delays and slow progress could bring in certain cases in the UK, but assured Nigerians that the UK government was doing everything it can to accelerate those processes within the rule of law.
“Because there is no shortcut when it comes to law, but we recognise the importance of managing some challenges and expectations. Clear, honest communication is vital in order to build the confidence and trust of citizens in the recovery process and indeed in the fight against corruption.
“The Proceeds of Crime bill here in Nigeria is expected to provide the legislative framework to ensure greater accountability and transparency around asset recovery. The UK is keen to see the swift passage of this bill and stands ready to support its implementation,” he added.
In a related development, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Thursday failed to arraign Adoke, Etete and seven others before the Federal High Court in Abuja, over their alleged complicity in the controversial sale of Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245, otherwise known as Malabu oil.
The others who were not in court were Aliyu Abubakar, ENI SPA, Ralph Wetzels, Casula Roberto, Pujatti Stefeno, Burrafati Sebestiano and Malabu Oil and Gas Limited.
They were accused of conspiring and defrauding the federal government of $1.1 billion in a shady oil bloc deal.
Specifically, Adoke was accused of playing a major role in the alleged fraudulent deal that saw the transfer of ownership of Malabu Oil to two multinational oil companies, Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company and Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd.
When the matter was called Thursday, the EFCC could not go ahead with the arraignment due to the absence of Adoke and Etete in court, forcing trial judge, Justice John Tsoho, to adjourn the trial till February 15, 2018.
Prosecuting counsel, Johnson Ojogbane, informed the court that the situation remained the same since the last adjourned date of June 16. He said: “My Lord, my situation has not improved since the last time I came to court.
“The process of getting the defendants to appear in court to face arraignment is very cumbersome, but it is ongoing.
“We are hoping that very soon the process will be concluded.”
He, however, pleaded for a further date to enable the federal government complete the process of ensuring that the defendants are in court for arraignment.
Responding, Justice Tsoho adjourned to February 15, 2018, for arraignment.
Thursday’s sitting would be the third failed attempt by the prosecution to arraign the defendants in court.
On April 3, 2017, the federal government had approached the court with a request for guidance on whether or not to issue an arrest warrant against Adoke.
The prosecution counsel stated that Adoke and some of the defendants are residing outside the shores of Nigeria, making the service of the writ of summons on them difficult.
Justice Tsoho pointed out that if Adoke had already been arraigned before the court and had attempted to evade trial, it would have been proper to issue a warrant of arrest.
“Once a person has been arraigned before a court and is attempting to escape, then it becomes necessary to issue a warrant of arrest, the judge said.
But in this case, the court stated that Adoke has not been arraigned, adding that the matter is still being investigated.
The matter was later adjourned to June 16, but again, the arraignment could not hold due to the absence of Adoke in court.
It was then adjourned to Thursday, yet the arraignment was stalled.
The charges are part of an international collaboration to ensure that all those who took part in the $1.1 billion OPL 245 scandal are brought to justice.
In a bid to get to the root of what transpired in the oil bloc scam, the federal government had in December 2016, filed a charge against Adoke, Etete, etc.
In March 2017, the federal government instituted another charge against Adoke and those involved in the OPL 245 Oil bloc deal.
In the charge filed in March 2017, count one stated that the accused persons conspired contrary to Section 26 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 to defraud the federal government of billions of naira.
The offence is punishable under Section 12 of the same Act.