Fresh facts have emerged on the alleged sale of forfeited assets by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which pitted the two government institutions against each other.
Investigations by one of our correspondents revealed that the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and the suspended EFCC Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, at different times gave separate authorisations for the sale of seized assets.
Rather than harmonise the disposal of assets forfeited by alleged looters and other individuals arraigned on charges of financial and cyber crimes, findings indicated that their respective offices had separately invited auctioneers to bid for the sale of luxury homes, cars, trucks, sea vessels, crude oil and other valuables running into billions of naira.
The Ministry of Justice and the EFCC had placed several auction notices in the Federal Tenders Journal and other media inviting the public for auction sales of some seized assets.
In February 2018, for instance, the ministry placed an advertisement inviting auctioneers, marine engineers, valuers and consultants for valuation and disposal of vessels, ships, boats, trucks, vehicles and petroleum products. The notice was placed on a subscription-based online portal, https//:234business.com.
The ministry hinged the move on the decision of the Federal Government to “clear its territorial waters, ports, dockyards, agency offices/stations and highways of obsolete and unauthorised vessels, barges, boats, ships, trucks, vehicles and the cargo in furtherance of National Security of the Federation and recovery of its assets policy.”
On December 19, 2019, the anti-graft agency auctioned 244 trailers and tankers forfeited to the Federal Government by illegal oil dealers. Eleven auctioneers participated in the bid.
The exercise was inaugurated by the commission secretary, Mr Ola Olukoyede, together with a team of senior officers at the EFCC zonal office in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The agency issued a press statement on the exercise. A copy of the notice was also published on its website.
Magu’s plan to auction $40m Dieziani’s jewellery, others without AGF’s approval his undoing – Sources
In November 2019, Magu also announced that his agency would contract international auction houses to sell the jewellery reportedly worth $40m recovered from ex-petroleum minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, together with seizures made from Internet fraudsters, having secured a forfeiture order from the Federal High Court on September 10.
Magu stated this during a conference at the Lagos office of the commission, where he briefed the stakeholders on the crusade against cybercrime and fraudsters.
The jewellery includes 419 bangles, 315 rings, 304 earrings, 267 necklaces, 189 wristwatches, 174 earrings, 78 bracelets, 77 brooches and 74 pendants; as well as luxury houses in Nigeria, United States and in the United Kingdom.
Sources said the refusal of Magu to involve the AGF in the disposal of the forfeited assets largely informed the rift between them, which led Malami to write a memo to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), in which he reportedly levelled 22 allegations against the embattled EFCC boss, who is a commissioner of police.
Following the development, the President set up a fact-finding panel headed by a retired President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, and six other members, including DIG Mike Ogbizi, Hassan Abdullahi (representing the Department of State Services), Douglas Ekwueme (Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit), Mallam Shamsudeen (OAGF), Mohammed Abubakar (Ministry of Justice) and Kazeem Atilebi (civil society groups).
Magu has been held in police custody since Monday and currently undergoing interrogations over what was said to include the unapproved sale of recovered assets.
The embattled EFCC boss was said to have been accosted on Monday by operatives of the Department of State Services in front of the old EFCC headquarters on Fomella Street, Wuse 2, Abuja, around 12pm and whisked to the venue of the panel sitting.
The panel’s investigation is holding behind closed doors in one of the conference rooms in the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Meanwhile, documents obtained by Saturday PUNCH on Friday indicated that the AGF last year granted approval to some operators in the oil industry to sell five sea vessels holding crude oil and diesel forfeited to the Federal Government.
The vessels valued at millions of naira and laden with tonnes of crude oil and diesel were seized by security agencies from illegal oil bunkering operators during different operations.
In separate documents, the AGF directed Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd. to dispose of the crude oil and diesel in four sea vessels through an open bid.
In another approval, the AGF mandated the firm to sell five vessels despite the fact that the firm and its Managing Director, Mr Jerome Itepu, stood trial at the Delta State High Court, Asaba, for allegedly stealing about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil loaded in a vessel, MT Akuada a.k.a. MT Kua, valued at N384m in 2009. The auctioneer was to get three per cent of the sale.
The EFCC had in 2015 arraigned four persons on charges of conspiracy, stealing and receiving stolen goods.
The accused included a businessman and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in Edo Central Senatorial District, Chief Francis Inegbeneki; Chief Executive Officer of Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd., Mr Jerome Itepu; Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd. and Ine Oil Ltd. owned by Inegbeneki.
The suit, numbered A/EFCC/1c/2015, was filed on March 24, 2015 by A.J. Arogha, Esq. and U.R. Ewoh, Esq. on behalf of the EFCC.
The accused were charged with “conspiracy, contrary to, and punishable under section 516 of the Criminal Code Law, CAP C21, Laws of Delta State 2006.”
According to the anti-graft commission, the accused, sometime in 2009, at Warri, Delta State, within the jurisdiction of the court, allegedly conspired to “commit a felony, to wit: stealing and, thereby, committed an offence.”
It stated, “They were alleged to have committed the offence of stealing, contrary to section 383 of the Criminal Code Law, CAP C21, Laws of Delta State 2006, which is punishable under section 390(4)(c) of the same law.
“According to the particulars of the offence, they allegedly stole about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil loaded in a vessel, MT Akuada a.k.a. MT Kua, valued at N384m in 2009, being the property of the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
The third count indicated that the accused also allegedly stole about 4,000 metric tonnes of crude oil, loaded in a vessel, MT Hope, valued at N128m belonging to the Federal Government.
Inegbeneki, the second accused in the charge sheet, was also charged with allegedly receiving stolen goods contrary to, and punishable under section 427 of the Criminal Code Law, CAP C21, Laws of Delta State 2006, “having allegedly received from one Itepu (first accused) and Omoh-Jay (third accused), about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil, knowing same to have been stolen.”
However, findings by one of our correspondents indicated that the AGF authorised Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd. to auction the forfeited vessels.
In a letter dated April 3, 2019, with reference no. HAGF/ARMU/RMDOVSC/2018/T addressed to the Chief of Naval Staff, Nigerian Navy, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ibas, the AGF said Omoh-Jay Ltd. had been granted approval to conduct an open bid and solicited the cooperation of the navy.
The letter signed by Malami, titled ‘Re: Suit no. FHC/ABS/CS/742/2017 FRN and Anor. vs unknown persons (arrested vessels), was received by the CNS on the day it was signed.
It read, “Please be informed that Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd. has been granted approval to conduct an open bid for content only for the following vessels: MT Asteris with crude oil, MV PSV Derby with Automated Gas Oil (diesel), MV Zahra with AGO and MV Long Island with AGO (with leave of court).
“For the purpose of disposal of the products under reference, the Office of the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice requests the Chief of Naval Staff to kindly grant access and necessary support as always for the whole process.”
In the second approval, Malami directed Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd. to conduct another open bid for five sea vessels, three of which were laden with crude oil and diesel.
The letter addressed to the MD of Omoh-Jay Ltd, dated September 9, 2019, with reference HAGF/ARMU/NSA/2018/1, was also signed by the Justice Minister. It was titled, ‘Re: Report on suit no. FHC/ABS/CS/742/2017 FRN and Anor. v unknown persons (arrested vessels).
It read in part, “Pursuant to your earlier instruction dated September 12, 2018, on the above subject matter, you are hereby instructed further to conduct an open bid sale for the following vessels: MT Asteris with crude oil, MV PSV Derby with Automated Gas Oil, MV Zahra with AGO, MT Peace and MV Anuket Emerald.”
It further directed the firm to revert with offers to the AGF for final approval before the conclusion of the sale.
“Be informed that the success fees remain three per cent of the total value recovered from the auction. You are, therefore, expected to submit acceptance letter within 72 hours of the receipt of this instruction,” Malami directed.
However, our correspondents could not confirm the current status of the case between the EFCC and Omoh-Jay Nigeria Limited as well as other co-defendants as of the time of filing this report on Friday.
Reacting on behalf of the AGF, in respect of the approval to Omoh-Jay Ltd, his media aide, Dr Umar Gwandu, simply asked one of our correspondents to make a formal request.
“You are also encouraged to support the enquiry with evidence of criminal conviction. This will assist investigation and decision in considering them for auction or otherwise in view of constitutional presumption of innocence until otherwise established,” he noted.
On the lack of synergy between the AGF and EFCC on assets disposal, Gwandu argued that recovery agencies were unified by existing regulation in assets recovery put in place to regulate their processes and procedure in recovery and disposal of recovered assets.
He stated, “It is out of place to conclude that there is no collaboration. Failure to work on existing regulation that forced collaboration, transparency, accountability and uniformity can, therefore, at best be adjudged as an act of breach.”
Asked specifically why the AGF and Magu were independently authorising auction of assets, he responded, “Submit your enquiry with documents to back your claim.”
The EFCC spokesman, Dele Oyewale, had yet to respond to inquiries regarding sale of assets without recourse to the AGF as of the time of filing this report.
When contacted on the status of the case involving Omoh-Jay Ltd. and other defendants, an EFCC lawyer, A. Latona, declined comment. “Make your inquiry official, please; I don’t respond to questions on the phone,” he said on Friday night.
IG replaces police officers attached to EFCC
The Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, on Friday directed the immediate withdrawal of all police operatives serving at the EFCC, adding that they should be replaced with new ones.
The EFCC has offices in 15 states across the country including Abuja. These zonal offices are located in Abuja, Lagos, Rivers, Enugu, Kano, Gombe, Oyo, Kaduna, Borno, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Sokoto, Kwara and Benue, with its headquarters in the Jabi area of Abuja and secured by riot policemen, who also provide backup for EFCC operatives during operations.
In a police signal marked 101646/07/2020 addressed to the Assistant Inspector General, Police Mobile Force, PMF Squadrons one to 79, Force Secretary and Commissioners of Police of all the state commands and the Federal Capital Territory, the IG ordered that all the policemen deployed in EFCC be withdrawn and replaced with new operatives.
According to the order, only staff of the EFCC should be allowed access into the premises, while withdrawn police personnel from PMF 21, 44, 45, 46 and 50 must report to the Force Headquarters by 8am on Monday.
Many of the policemen at the EFCC were believed to be loyal to the suspended EFCC boss.
It was also learnt that police security guarding the official and personal houses of Magu had been withdrawn. The men were ordered to leave the residences in Abuja.
It was further gathered that all vehicles in the official house in Maitama were also driven away.
Suspended EFCC boss’ escort withdrawn, seeks bail on self-recognition
Meanwhile, Magu, who has been in detention since his arrest, has applied to the IG to be released on bail. He made the request through a letter sent on his behalf by one of his lawyers, Mr Oluwatosin Ojaomo, on Friday.
His lawyer’s letter dated July 10 with the IGP office’s acknowledgment stamp bearing the same date, requested that Magu be granted bail “on self-recognisance.”
“Finally, if our application for bail on self-recognisance is not acceptable, we are ready to provide a credible surety that will ensure the availability of our client anytime he is needed for the purpose of this investigation,” the letter added.
Also copied in the letter were the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd); the Chairman of the Presidential Probe Panel on the activities of the EFCC, Justice Ayo Salami (retd); the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, Prof Itsay Sagay (SAN); and the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in charge of Investigation, Force Criminal Investigation and Intelligence Department, Garki Area 10, Abuja, where Magu is reportedly being held.
His lawyer in the letter also reminded the IGP of his “recent directives to all police formations in Nigeria not to detain any suspect for any offence which is bailable in nature due to the COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging the world which Nigeria is not an exemption from.”
Ojaomo stated that his client had denied all the allegations being investigated by the panel including the ones levelled against him by the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), “and has provided both documentary and oral evidence to clear the air on all the allegations.”
He added, “Sir, our client has been in your detention facility since the 6th day of July, 2020 hoping to be granted an administrative bail by your office, our decision to write this application to your office is premised on your declaration and avowed commitment at your inauguration as the Inspector-General of Police to ensure that the constitutional rights of all Nigerians are protected under your leadership.”
He stated that granting bail to Magu would enable him to adequately prepare for his defence before the panel.
He stated, “In view of the bailable nature of the allegations levelled against our client, we hereby apply that you grant him an administrative bail pending the completion of the investigation into the allegations levelled against him so that he can adequately prepare himself for the defence of these allegations in accordance with the relevant provision of the constitution.”
Buhari has approved Magu’s suspension, Umar as acting EFCC chair – Malami
The Attorney-General of the Federation also said on Friday that the President had approved the immediate suspension of Magu.
A statement by Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Gwandu, also confirmed previous media reports that the President had directed the EFCC Director of Operations, Mohammed Umar, to take charge of the affairs of the commission pending the conclusion of the investigative hearing on different allegations levelled against Magu.
The minister stated on Friday that Buhari’s approval of the suspension of Magu, who has been acting as the EFCC chairman since 2015, was to pave the way for an unhindered probe by the panel.
The statement partly read, “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the immediate suspension of Ibrahim Magu as Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in order to allow for unhindered inquiry by the Presidential Investigation Panel under the Tribunals of Inquiry Act and other relevant laws.”
It added, “President Muhammadu Buhari has also approved that the EFCC Director of Operations, Mohammed Umar, should take charge and oversee the activities of the Commission pending the conclusion of the ongoing investigation and further directives in that regards.”
Uncover buyers of seized properties, Fayose tells FG
A former Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose, on Friday called on the Federal Government to uncover those who bought the properties seized by the commission.
In a statement by his media aide, Lere Olayinka, titled, ‘Magu: Probe mustn’t be about his removal alone, buyers of seized properties must be uncovered’, Fayose said, “Those recovered loots that were ‘relooted’ must be ‘re-recovered’. This investigation must not end up as their usual paddy-paddy arrangement. It should not end up as a tool just to remove Magu because removing him will not be enough. The loots already ‘relooted’ must be ‘re-recovered’ and those who ‘relooted’ the loots brought to book.
“Nigerians must know the beneficiaries of the seized properties and how they were sold because most of these properties were (allegedly) bought by associates of Magu, including some so-called human rights lawyers.”
Computers destroyed at NFIU before panel’s visit
The probe of Magu however took an interesting turn on Friday as computers at the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit – where evidence was purportedly kept, were destroyed.
The incident took place at the NFIU office located on Ibrahim Taiwo Street near the Presidential Villa barely hours before members of the Presidential panel investigating Magu were to visit the office to view evidence stored on the computers.
The NFIU, which used to be a unit under the EFCC before it was separated as an independent agency in 2018, was said to be a vital agency in the probe of Magu.
A top source said, “Some NFIU officials had earlier in the week testified orally before the panel. However, they said they could not bring some sensitive materials before the panel because of their operational protocol.
“The members of the panel subsequently scheduled a visit to the NFIU office on Friday to view some of the evidence. However, before they could get to the NFIU office, some unknown persons had broken into the place and destroyed the computers.”
However, Magu’s lawyer, Tosin Ojaomo, said his client should not be linked with the alleged destruction of the computers, saying such linkage was as an attempt to damage his client’s reputation.
He said, “Magu has nothing to do with that matter. The main office of the NFIU is inside the Central Bank of Nigeria. That is where most of their operations take place.
“People are just doing everything possible to blackmail Magu. How can Magu who is in detention send people to destroy things? The truth will soon emerge.”
Ojaomo said he was unable to see Magu on Friday due to the long hours the committee sat for. “We didn’t succeed at getting him bailed today; by Monday morning we may have to take the (next) line of action. I still think IG can grant administrative bail,” he added.
Magu was said to have spent over eight hours before the panel.