The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission says its investigative team has not been allowed to meet with the immediate past Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, in the United Kingdom, where she has been staying since 2015 when investigation into her tenure began.
The commission stated in a counter-affidavit filed before the Federal High Court, Abuja, that it had been investigating the ex-minister for various allegations of corrupt practices, including abuse of office, money laundering, stealing of public funds and illegal acquisition of properties within and outside Nigeria.
But EFCC stated that its efforts to interrogate her over the allegations had been abortive as her lawyer, John Binns of BCL Solicitors, refused to allow the commission’s team of investigators, led by Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, to meet with her in the UK earlier in March this year.
The EFCC’s counter-affidavit was in response to a motion filed by the former minister, seeking an amendment to the heading of the charges filed against a businessman, Mr. Olajide Omokore, and five others by adding her name to the list of defendants so that she could defend herself in respect of allegations against her in one of the nine counts.
A detective with the commission, Mr. Rufai Zaki, who deposed to the EFCC’s counter-affidavit, added that it was not yet possible to bring the former minister back to Nigeria as she was being investigated by the UK’s Metropolitan Police for several other financial crimes, saying the probe had reached an advanced stage.
The EFCC had preferred nine counts of criminal diversion of about $1.6bn, alleged to be part of proceeds of sales of petroleum products belonging to the Federal Government, against Omokore and the other five defendants.
In one of the nine counts, the anti-graft agency alleged that Alison-Madueke and other officials aided and abetted Omokore in committing money laundering offences in relation to the diversion of the crude oil money.
Zaki, the deponent to the EFCC’s counter-affidavit, stated that Alison-Madueke had absconded to the UK after leaving office in 2015 upon realising that the EFCC had commenced investigation into her activities.
He stated in the counter-affidavit, “That sometime in 2015, the commission received an intelligence report bordering on abuse of office, criminal breach of trust, stealing, conversion and receiving stolen properties.
“That the commission further assessed the intelligence report and found that there was merit in same. Investigation was conducted in respect of this case before a charge was preferred against the defendants (Omokore and others).
“That at the tail end of the tenure of the applicant as Minister of Petroleum Resources, the commission received a lot of complaints and intelligence reports against the applicant, alleging that she was involved in various corrupt practices, money laundering, stealing of public funds and illegal acquisition of properties within and outside Nigeria.
“That immediately the applicant (Alison-Madueke) got to know that investigations had commenced in respect of her various nefarious illegal financial activities while she was the Minister of Petroleum Resources, she absconded from Nigeria in order to escape the investigation and prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“That upon realising that the applicant is in the United Kingdom, we made efforts to schedule a meeting with the applicant in order to interview her in respect of her involvement in the activities leading to this charge and many other alleged financial crimes linked to her but up till now, she had always avoided having any meeting with members of our team.
“That the applicant’s lawyer in the United Kingdom, one John Binns of BCL Solicitors, informed the members of the team of investigators headed by Abdulrasheed Bawa, when they visited the United Kingdom in March, 2017, that the team would not be permitted to meet the applicant for any interview in view of the fact that she is not within the territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“That while in the United Kingdom, the applicant had been invited by the Metropolitan Police, who are investigating her for several other financial crimes. She has been released on bail in the United Kingdom but could not leave the United Kingdom as their investigations have reached advanced stages.”
Alison-Madueke had, in her motion, filed on August 18, sought an order mandating her to appear in court on the next adjourned date on October 5, 2017, to plead to the charge and in particular Count 8 of the charge number FHC/ABJ/CR/121/2016.
She also sought another order mandating the Attorney General of the Federation, being the agent of the complainant, to facilitate her prompt appearance in court on October 5, 2017, to take her plea and to defend herself over the allegation made against her in Court 8 of the charge number FHC/ABJ/CR/121/2016.
But the trial judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, on September 20, dismissed the motion after hearing the former minister’s lawyer, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), and EFCC’s counsel, Mr. M. S. Abubakar.
The judge, in his ruling, struck out the count in which Alison-Madueke’s name was mentioned but held that he could not grant any of the three prayers sought by the minister.
The judge ruled that he could not grant the prayers because amending the charges to include her name as a defendant would imply starting the trial afresh, a development which would amount to waste of time and resources already expended on the case.
The six, named as defendants in the case in which Alison-Madueke had sought to be joined as a defendant, include Omokore; his two companies, Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited.
The other defendants are a former Managing Director of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company, Victor Briggs; a former Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Abiye Membere; and a former Manager, Planning and Commercial of the NNPC, David Mbanefo.