The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, introduced an interesting twist to the relationship between Nigeria and Process and Industrial Developments (P&ID) Limited- the company that secured a $9.6 billion judgment against Nigeria at a British court in August.
The anti-graft agency had brought a case of fraud against directors of P&ID Limited, Virgin Island and its Nigerian affiliate, P&ID Nigeria Limited.
The two firms were found guilty on the 11-count charge of tax evasion and money laundering brought against them and were convicted accordingly by the court.
In his judgment, Justice Inyang Ekwo held that the firms having admitted to the crime, he had no option than to convict them accordingly. Relying on provisions of section 19(2) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011, and section 10(2) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other related offences Act, 2006, the court ordered the federal government to wind up the two firms and confiscate all their assets in the country.
The firms were linked to the controversial Gas Supply and Processing Agreement (GSPA) the company signed with the Ministry of Petroleum Resources on behalf of the federal government that led to the British Court’s judgement ordering the seizure of Nigeria’s foreign assets worth $9.6billion.
Wednesday judgment was a significant step towards untangling the web woven around the neck of Nigeria by P& ID by the judgment of the British court. As observed by human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, the Abuja court ruling has shown that the contract was a “package of fraud.” And Nigeria can now execute it abroad against P&ID and use it to set aside the judgment of the British court.
In his reaction also, Abubakar Malami, Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, said the Abuja court judgment was a judicial proof that fraud and corruption were the foundation of the relationship that gave rise to the alleged contract, and noted that a “liability that is rooted in fraud and corruption cannot stand judicial enforceability.”
Nigeria. According to Malami, now has a cogent ground for setting aside the liability imposed on her by the London court. The new twist would now also lead Nigeria to review its strategy in handling the British court judgment.
The development is certainly good news for Nigeria and rekindles hope that there may indeed be a way to fend off the execution of the London judgment. But it also signposts a noticeable trend in the operations of the EFCC which has of recent turned into an effective anti-corruption investigation and prosecution machine.
Only last week this writer celebrated EFCC’s successes in the operations against internet fraudsters called “Yahoo Boys” which encouraged a partnership with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI. Within the space of one month, the agency was able to complete a clean sweep of cyber criminals across the country in a coordinated operation with the FBI tagged: ‘Operation Rewired’.
The operation was commendable in its swiftness and success as it led to the arrest of 167 suspected cyber criminals and recovery of 169,850 dollars as well as N92 million. In addition, exotic cars, plots of land in choice areas of Lagos and a property in Abuja were recovered during the operations.
The verdict by Justice Inyang Ekwo followed the conviction of P&ID Nigeria Limited and its parent company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands on an 11-count charge bordering on economic sabotage, money laundering, tax evasion amongst others, which the EFCC preferred against them. According to the EFCC, the firms fraudulently claimed to have acquired land from the Cross-River State Government in 2010 for the gas supply project agreement that resulted to the $9.6bn judgment debt.
The directors of the companies admitted and pleaded guilty to allegation of fraud and that they did not even acquire any land in Calabar for the project in the first place. It says a lot about the quality of investigation the EFCC is now able to carry out that it could get a positive court judgment in such a timely version. This is exactly where I think the legacy of the Minister of Justice would be found long after he has left office.
Malami has instituted a deepening of investigation by prosecuting agencies of government to avoid losing cases and help them get more convictions. He has raised the bar and standard of criminal investigations for government prosecutorial agencies, including the Nigerian Police Force and the EFCC. A stickler for detailed and meticulous investigations before prosecution, the Justice ministry under Malami had insisted on diligent investigations by prosecuting agencies before charges are filed in court.
He had in the past rejected case files from prosecuting agencies due to lack of diligent investigation. His demand for thoroughness had been misinterpreted in the past as plot to protect some politically exposed persons from the law, even when he had explained reasons for his actions.
In August when the news of the P&ID $9.6 billion judgment broke, there were attempts to make him complicit in the scam. The P&ID itself had promoted a narrative of blackmail against Nigeria and the attorney general, accusing Malami of failure to act before the judgment. But it is now clear that the company was only desperate to cover up its tracks and benefit from a corrupt plot to defraud Nigeria.
But exonerating himself from the scam, he had explained that the contract was a 2010 agreement signed five years before he came into office while the award by the UK court of Arbitration was in June 2014, one year before he was appointed minister of Justice.
Moreover, he disclosed, in order to protect the interest of Nigeria, he had taken steps to engage local and international lawyers to defend Nigeria’s interest including Chief Bola Ayorinde, SAN, and Curtis Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle. But more importantly, was his disclosure that he had written series of letters to relevant security agencies in Nigeria to investigate the criminal conspiracy and economic sabotage occasioned by the GSPA contract as far back as 2017.
The result of those actions, it would appear, are what is now unfolding with regards to the P&ID saga. Those investigations have now revealed top former government employees who participated in and facilitated the contract scam. The EFCC is now hounding those involved. The courts are going to be busy on the case for the foreseeable future.
But it is re-assuring that the government has taken the matter seriously to punish any complicity in order to prevent such impunity in the future. Malami himself had boasted that the government would fish out all those involved the deal that has brought international embarrassment to the country. Now the EFCC seems to be keeping that promise.
Malami’s next task is to ensure that Nigeria vacates the judgment of the London court when the case goes on appeal. If not, his effort would be a waste of time and resources. The judgment of the London court is an affront on his office as much as it is on Nigeria. The attorney general, no doubt, must be aware that his legacy is at stake.
Solomon wrote in from Gwarimpa Estate, Abuja.