Nigeria’s anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday denied dropping graft charges against former minister of petroleum resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, describing widespread media reports to that effect as “fake news.”
“It is fake news, just disregard it,” Wilson Uwujaren, EFCC spokesman, told Huhuonline.com in a phone conversation. Asked if there was an amendment of charges against the former minister, Uwujaren again insisted it was all “fake news.”
The EFCC spokesman in a statement explained that prosecution of Alison-Madueke for a 14-count charge has suffered setbacks because other defendants in the case were unavailable, insisting that the case is still court.
“The only development was that the Commission took a prosecutorial decision to split the initial 14-count charge to enable separate arraignment of the defendants following a spate of adjournments that prevented the arraignment of the defendants more than one year after the case was listed,” Uwujaren said. “The charges were first filed on November 28, 2018. Since then, every attempt to arraign the defendants had been frustrated by one excuse or the other.”
The EFCC spokesman said the defendants were unavailable in more than four instances that the matter was called for arraignment. Uwujaren explained that -it was either that Lanre Adesanya was sick and bedridden in a London Hospital or Nnamdi Okonkwo was hypertensive and on admission in a hospital or Stanley Lawson had a domestic accident and could not appear in court.
“It was clear that these recurring excuses were ploys to frustrate the arraignment,” Uwujaren said.
To get around the excuses, Uwujaren disclosed that the EFCC took a deliberate decision to separately prosecute the defendants in different courts.
The decision, he said explains why the four-count amended charge was brought against Dauda Lawal, a former executive director of First Bank, did not include other defendants, except the two others- Diezani Alison-Madueke and Ben Otti.
He noted that the ingredients of the offence stated in the four-count charge only pertains to Lawal’s involvement in the alleged crime of receiving “$25million from the $153million 2015 Peoples Democratic Party presidential election slush fund.”
The EFCC spokesman urged the public to disregard the report that the EFCC dropped the case against Alison-Madueke. Local media reports that the anti-graft agency had dropped all 14 count charges against the former Petroleum Minister went viral on social media.
According to the reports, the EFCC was also said to have dropped charges against Ben Otti, Nnamdi Okonkwo, Stanley Lawson, Lanre Adesanya, and Dauda Lawal, all of whom are former officials of commercial banks and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Alison-Madueke is being investigated in bribery, fraud, misuse of public funds and money-laundering cases in Nigeria, Italy, Britain and the US. Many of the charges levied against her centre on her supervisory role over Nigeria’s vast oil resources as the anti-corruption agency alleges she engaged in fraudulent dealings during her tenure as the minister.
These allegations are backed up by documents from the US department of justice which named Alison-Madueke as part of a lawsuit seeking to reclaim assets worth $144 million believed to have been proceeds of corrupt dealings. The assets include a $50 million luxury condo apartment in New York and a $80 million yacht.
In Nigeria, EFCC, in a 14 count-charge, accused the bank executives and Alison-Madueke with other NNPC officials of conspiring to conceal $153 million in Fidelity bank, which they ought to have known were proceeds of corruption punishable under the Money Laundering Act.
In 2015, the EFCC discovered that the $153 million was deposited, to allegedly fund the presidential second term campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan. The matter was investigated by the EFCC and the bankers were alleged to have conspired with Diezani and other NNPC officials to conceal and distribute parts of the fund.
Lawal who was an Executive Director of First Bank was accused of assisting Diezani to purchase a property, Merdien Hotel Ogeyi Palace in Port Harcourt, when he received $25 million from Fidelity Bank and deposited the same amount with Sterling Bank, allegedly on the instruction of Stanley. The EFCC has obtained court rulings that have ordered the forfeiture of properties and funds linked to the former minister. At least N14.5 billion worth of jewelry has been forfeited to the EFCC.