…absolves justice ministry of involvement in management of assets recoveries
…gives details of recoveries from Abacha, Alamieyesigha, Ibori, others
…says matter subjudiced, directs further enquiries to finance ministry, accountant general
…says Whistle Blowers on the run
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), Thursday described as baseless and unfounded the allegations that 48 barrels of crude oil worth $2.4 billion were missing.
Recall that the “Adhoc Committee To Investigate Alleged Loss of Over $2.4 Billion In Revenue From Illegal Sale of 48 million Barrels of Crude Oil Export in 2015 Including Crude oil Exports from 2014 Till Date” of the House of Representatives which had been holding public hearings on the matter had earlier summoned Malami to appear before it an answer to the issues raised against his office, threatening to arrest him if he failed to show up.
However, appearing before the committee chaired by Hon. Mark Gbillah eventually on Thursday, Malami who took his time to school the committee members on the details of the issues dismissed the allegations.
Allegations baseless, unfounded
He recalled that in 2016, speculations became rife about the missing crude, prompting President Muhammadu Buhari to call for his advice on the matter.
Malami, however, said that certain facts revealed that there were not enough grounds to substantiate the allegations.
He also remarked that the federal government has arrested some of the whistle blowers while some were on the run to faraway Mexico.
He said: “Let me state on record and for the benefit of Nigerians and the committee that the allegations relating to the 48 million barrels are baseless. The allegation is unfounded. It lacks merit and indeed substance.
“The allegation in its own right is devoid of any reasonable ground pointing to a material suspicion cogent enough to invoke the constitutional oversight of the committee.
“Why do I say so? Sometimes in 2016, allegations were rife and hyped in the social media. There were allegations of existence of stolen 48 million barrels of Nigerian crude in China said to have been valued at $2.4 billion.
“President Muhammadu Buhari informally requested the attorney-general, making reference to my humble person, Mele Kyari, Lawal Daura, former DG of DSS; and late Abba Kyari; to look into it and advise.
“But unfortunately, for there to be a reasonable ground for suspicion, at least, you require certain basic facts.
“If you’re talking of a product, you cannot establish the substance relating thereto, without confirming the origin of the purported product in China. If you talk about a product in China. Is it of Nigerian origin? That can be ascertained by sample and specifications. Is it Bonny Light for example, which you know emanate from Nigeria or what is it.
“The basic details of the existence of the product and connecting it to Nigeria was not there at all.
“If you are talking of a product, the vessel perhaps that has taken it, what are the particulars and details of the vessel. They were not available at our disposal at all.
“Which authority is it that has taken custody of the product? There was no information at all.
“So the issue is simple. There were no reasonable grounds for suspicion of the fact that the purported oil product either exist in spirit or in fact or in indeed exist in China — and it is in no way connected to Nigeria. And all effort on our part to get details have proven abortive.
“So it was a committee that was dead on arrival because it has not been formally constituted and then our informal findings do not suggest or provide an information that could support.
“So we could not establish the substance in the allegation because detail information to confirm the existence and origin of of the shipment such as sample of the oil, vessel involved loading point etc, location of the crude in China etc were not provided
“So we reported to the president that we were unable to confirm the veracity of the allegation hence no further action was taken by my office”.
Justice ministry not involved in asset recovery management
Responding to questions on assets recoveries, Malami absolved his office of any involvement in the management and disbursement of the funds.
He said that the Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation were to be queried, adding that the monies were lodged in the Central Bank bank of Nigeria (CBN).
“The office of attorney general received about 3 letters from the committee. The first letter received was dated January 12, 2023 and then it was followed up with a letter dated March 22, 2023 which was further followed up with a letter dated April 3, 2023. My presentation before you will be a presentation that addresses the issues captured in these letter one after the other.
“In the first letter, there are questions that I will like to take jointly. Questions 1 to 5 of the first letter. Arising from those questions, the committee seeks details of information on whistle blowers and associated recoveries by the office of the attorney general. And I have taken pains to produce what I call table two that comprises annextures which indeed provided a comprehensive detail of the whistle blowers and associated recoveries.
“Ministry of finance is the coordinator of the whistle blower policy and all payments to whistle blowers are made by the federal ministry of finance, budget and national planning.
“It should be noted that whistle blowing thrives on confidentiality and protection of information. Therefore, disclosure of the details of whistle blowers at a public hearing breaches the confidentiality provision of which the office of the attorney general was committed to on the account of personal security and the national security. So, arising from that consideration, I have taken pains to develop information taking into consideration the confidentiality element of it but providing same for the consideration of the committee exclusively. That is it for questions 1 to 5 as contained in that letter.
“For question 6 demanded a report on the details of accounts for which the recoveries were made and I equally developed what I called table 2 and annextures providing information on the local accounts which recoveries were made.
“The details of international account, expenditure, statement of accounts are obtainable from the Central Bank of Nigeria. For the information of the committee, the office of the attorney general does not maintain the custody of an account of associated recoveries. This is maintained by the Central Bank and open on the request of the office of attorney general and then open on the directives of office of the accountant general.
“As far as being a signatory or in any way being responsible in the management of such account is concerned, the office of the attorney general is in no way connected whatsoever. Whatsoever information that may be required as it connects to the details of the signatories, details for the management, details of the disbursement associated with the recoveries accounts, I suggest that the federal ministry of finance, the office of accountant general are exclusive custodians, managers and operators of the account, not the office of the attorney general.
“What I am saying in essence is that reference or details, signatories, disbursement, associated information on all the recovery accounts should be routed to the Central Bank, office of the accountant general and indeed, the federal ministry of finance that are the operators, maintainers, custodians of this account in question”, Malami said.
Details of recoveries from Abacha, Alamieyesigha, Ibori, others
Malami also revealed to the committee several recoveries made by the federal government from the former Head of State, late General Sani Abacha, former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori amongst others.
He said: “But I think it is important at this juncture to draw the attention of committee to a point and that point is to give you an idea of what recoveries were made within 6 years. Of all these recoveries, not a kobo relating thereto is in the custody of the office of the attorney general.
“The office of the attorney general was instrumental in 2017 in the recovery of 322 million dollars. Where is the money? The money was lodged into the assets recovery account of the federal government opened at the instance of the federal ministry of finance by the request of the office of attorney general, maintained by office of the accountant general in CBN’s custody. No account is being operated, maintained by the office of the attorney general.
“Again, in 2020, the office of attorney general was instrumental to the recovery of 311.4 million dollars from Benwick Jazzy US and UK. That money was lodged into the asset recovery account of the federal government maintained in the Central Bank, opened at the instance of federal ministry of finance and the office of the accountant general. No body in the office of the attorney general was a signatory or responsible for the operation and coordination of the account.
“Again, there was addition amount of 5.4million dollars recovered in 2020 from northern Ireland relating to Abacha. The said amount was lodged into the asset recovery account of the federal government being maintained at the Central Bank.
“Again, there was additional amount of 4.2 Pounds relating to James Ibori not lodged in an account maintained by the office of the attorney general but maintained at the Central Bank.
“Again, we equally recovered additional amount of 20 million pounds recently in August 2022 known as Micosta. Lodged where? In the asset recovery of the federal government maintained at the Central Bank.
“Again, we equally recovered additional sum of 950 pounds of illicit funds linked to DSP Alamieyesigha. It was equally lodged at the account.
“So, what I am saying in essence for clarification purposes, for the purpose of setting aside any ambiguity in case anyone sets in as to the consideration associated with the recoveries is that no account is being maintained in the federal ministry of justice for purpose of recovered assets and all the monies received recovered by the office of the attorney general and ministry of justice were indeed lodged into an account maintained with the Central Bank in respect of which neither the attorney general, nor staff of the federal ministry of justice is a signatory.”
Compensation to the recovery agent
The attorney general however told the committee that some compensation fee was paid to the recovery agent.
“Relating to questions 13 and 14, that is details of compensation paid for an engagement of the recovery agent:
“Let me give you an insight as to the way and manner, compensations relating to the recoveries had been conducted. I will take an example with the case of 322 million dollars recovered from Switzerland. A recovery agent approached the office of attorney general for the purpose of recovery. An agreement was eventually drafted and signed spelling the terms on the basis of which the recovery will be made. Generally speaking, ever since the coming of this government, no recovery has exceeded 5 percent professional fees for the services. And the fee is contingent on the recovery. No kobo is advanced by the federal government or the office of the attorney general for the recovery purposes.
“So, if you are engaged formally, engagement documents are signed and you are now supported to go ahead and make recoveries. Where recoveries are eventually effected, lodgments are made into the asset recovery of the federal government that exists at the Central Bank opened by the office of the accountant general of the Federation at the request of the office of attorney general because if we are making recoveries, we have to know where and when these monies recovered are to be lodged”, he said.
On the request by the committee to release the case file to aid their investigation, the attorney general said that it was not possible to interfere in the matter that was before the court.
He however advised the committee to apply to be joined in the case if they were so interested.
Malami further told the committee that discussing the matter was subjudiced, saying it was not even necessary to hold the public hearing in the first place.
Adjourning the session, Hon. Ibrahim Isiaka who presided on behalf of the chairman of the committee said that the panel will re-invite Malami at a date yet to be fixed by next week, assuring they will take time to digest the documents so far submitted.