Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has raised the alarm over attempts by a certain group of lawyers and their alleged sponsors to short-change Nigeria, saying that the commission will not allow anyone to defraud the country through a controversial claim for £2.5billion.
A statement from the commission said it strongly condemned “a calculated attempt by a group of 27 lawyers to blackmail one of its lead prosecutors, Mr. Rotimi Jacob (SAN), on the contentious £2.5billion, insisting that Jacobs is a reputable lawyer, who had successfully prosecuted several high-profile cases for the EFCC.”
The 27 lawyers had, in a petition addressed to the National Executive of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), alleged that Jacobs was using the EFCC to arrest, harass and intimidate them for winning a monetary suit against the Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN) and Union Bank of Nigeria Plc.
Speaking through one Mr. Onyechi Egwuonwu, the 27 lawyers further alleged that the Union Bank induced the EFCC and Jacobs to file criminal charges against their client, Petro Union Oil, in order to frustrate the execution of the judgment.
But in a swift reaction, the EFCC yesterday dismissed the claim, describing it as false and misleading.
The EFCC said: “For the purpose of clarity, the purported £2.5billion is a fictitious fund Petro Union Oil drew against an account in Barclays Bank (United Kingdom) through a cheque issued in 1994.
“The company made a fraudulent attempt to present the cheque for clearing through Union Bank but inquiries made by Union Bank at Barclays Bank showed that the account against which the cheque was drawn was closed in 1989, five years before the cheque was presented in Lagos for clearing.”
The commission asserted that the company was voluntarily dissolved by its promoters in the United Kingdom. The same promoters are the mastermind of Petro Union oil.
“For some inscrutable reasons, Petro Union Oil was able to procure a court judgment for the £2.5billion against the CBN and Union Bank on the basis of an alleged CBN Statement of Account when it is elementary that the CBN, like all Central Banks across the world, does not maintain accounts for private entities.
“Based on the foregoing, the EFCC filed a seven-count charge against Petro Union oil and its directors and trial is ongoing at the Federal High Court,” it said.
The commission further said: “It should be pointed out that, the publication alleging intimidation and harassment by the lawyers is a desperate attempt by the shady elements and their promoters to divert attention from their ongoing trial and frustrate the EFCC in its determination to rid the country of corrupt and manipulative elements, including the lawyers and other professionals who lent their names to aid the fraud.
“Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), is a highly respected member of the legal profession who has worked assiduously in conjunction with the EFCC to secure convictions of many notable convicts in the society.”
The commission said it would not be deterred from its avowed goal of preventing the alleged fraud, adding that it was considering filing a complaint against the lawyers with the appropriate organ of the legal profession.