Okoawo BlueGate & Co. is a Law Firm in Benin City, Lawyers and Solicitors in Edo State, Nigeria.
Sunday, June 26, 2011
‘Waziri signed letters that exonerated accused politicians'
In early 2009, Mohammed Buba Marwa, then Nigeria's ambassador to South Africa, became dissatisfied with his status as a diplomat. He wanted an elective executive position, which in our country gives virtual free rein for a leader to do as he pleases, calling the shots and dispensing patronage.
A former military administrator of Lagos State, Mr Marwa tried to be the number one citizen of Nigeria in 2007, when he sought the presidential nomination of the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But the attempt came to nought, partly due to his indictment for corruption by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Realising that his chances of being president in 2011 were slim, Mr Marwa decided to run instead for governor of his home state of Adamawa. However, the same EFCC report which was used to stifle his chances four years ago posed the same threat to his new ambition.
Mr Marwa was indicted by the EFCC for assisting Sani Abacha, Nigeria's former military dictator, to launder money and for benefitting from the illicit undertaking. The particular case involved the purchase, in 1996, of 1500 trucks from Tata Overseas sales and services, an Indian company, for $149 million and another set in 1997 for $29 million. While the first batch was for the Nigerian Army and the Police, the second was for the national electoral body. Mr Marwa, who was then defence advisor at the Nigerian permanent mission to the United Nations in New York, negotiated the deals. Both Mr Marwa and the late dictator, according to top EFCC officials, benefitted from the payment of $12 million dollars as kickbacks. The money was put in different accounts in foreign countries, including the Cayman Islands and Kenya. The matter was investigated not only by the EFCC, but also by US authorities, whose request led to the EFCC's investigations in the first place.
The matter was still under investigation when Farida Waziri became chair of the anti-graft commission in 2008. With the appointment of Mrs Waziri, Mr Marwa saw an opportunity to cover up his allegedly corrupt past and ready himself for an obstacle-free governorship contest. It turned out Mrs Waziri was ready to play ball.
In order to realise his political ambition and free himself from arrest and prosecution abroad, Mr Marwa struck a deal with Mrs Waziri. He would be cleared of any wrongdoing. However, he had to initiate the clearance process.
On June 16, 2009, lawyers to Mr Marwa from Mike Ungwanyi and Co. legal firm wrote to Mrs Waziri, seeking clearance for their client. The letter was entitled "Kickbacks for contracts with TATA to supply vehicle for military police... by Marwa when he was military attaché in NY in 1996".
Three weeks later, Mr Marwa received a letter from Mrs Waziri clearing him of the allegations. Without recourse to previous investigations and indictments, even by international security agencies, Mrs Waziri stated in her response to the ambassador, in a letter dated July 6, 2009 that "investigation has now been closed and the matter brought to an end as there is not sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution".
When contacted, Femi Babafemi, the spokesman of the EFCC admitted that the EFCC did write a letter but denied its content.
"I'm not aware of anything like that (clearing Mr Marwa). What I know is that some years ago, there was a request by his lawyers to ask for the status of the case and the commission replied that we don't have anything yet to prosecute him."
With Mrs Waziri's secret clearance in hand, Mr Marwa was ready to be governor and to tell anyone who cared to listen that he was sparkling clean. But for the Court of Appeal, which postponed governorship election in Adamawa State till 2012, he would have given incumbent Governor Murtala Nyako a run for his money. He is currently waiting in the wing for next year's political battle with Mr Nyako.
Part of a trend
Rather than go after corrupt public officials and bring them to book, Mrs Waziri has in the past three years operated a clearing house for several corrupt people in what appears to be a gesture of appreciation to those who helped her clinch the EFCC top job. Less than eight months into her tenure, the EFCC chairperson secretly and, under strange circumstances, cleared top government officials, including at least two former governors, of corruption charges levelled against them.
Former Governors Victor Attah (Akwa-Ibom) and James Ibori (Delta), on whose necks hang monumental allegations of corruption, also benefitted from Mrs Waziri's negative generosity. She issued clearance letters to the two men, certifying them clean.
These letters have helped the beneficiaries to not only escape prosecution by the EFCC but also by international agencies such as the Metropolitan Police. While the EFCC, after much public outcry and condemnation by international agencies and governments like the United States, eventually decided to prosecute Mr Ibori, the other two beneficiaries, Messrs Attah and Marwa still possess the "get out of jail card" handed them by Mrs Waziri.
While the reasons given for clearing each of these former public officials differ, sources in the commission believe that the roles played by these individuals in the appointment of Mrs Waziri as the commission's boss was a major factor.
Mrs Waziri was appointed EFCC boss in May 2008 following the removal of Nuhu Ribadu, the pioneer chairman of the commission in controversial circumstances. Her appointment was however marred by controversy, as she was accused by a section of the media and civil society as previously acting as legal advisers to former governors who were being prosecuted by the EFCC during Mr Ribadu's tenure.
The former governors believed to be behind Mrs Waziri's appointment include Mr Ibori, Mr Attah, Bukola Saraki (former governor of Kwara State and incumbent senator), and George Akume, former governor of Benue State, who is also now a senator. The EFCC is yet to commence prosecution of the latter two - Messrs Saraki and Akume - despite their having been indicted for corruption by the agency.
Though the cases are different, the formula for getting Mrs Waziri to issue clearance letters basically followed the same pattern. Each of the "political heavyweights" would have his lawyer write to the EFCC asking for clearance, and the EFCC was always in a hurry to oblige. Even when investigations were still ongoing, Mrs Waziri would quickly issue a letter clearing corrupt elements of any wrongdoing.
The Akwa-Ibom Econet deals
"The commission wishes to state emphatically that it has not at any time or in any correspondence with the persons (Mr Ibori; Mr Attah; and Bola Tinubu, former Governor of Lagos) referred to in these media reports or any other person cleared them of complicity in all matters relating to them which are either in court or still under investigation."
This was a statement released by the EFCC on September 11, 2009 and signed by Mr Babafemi, the commission's head of media and publicity. Mr Babafemi explained that the commission had to clarify the issues because it was "inappropriate to input or infer that the three former governors have been exonerated in matters that are still pending or yet to be determined by the law court, which is the only competent organ of government that can pronounce guilt or innocence in matters like the ones under reference."
The matter referred to by Mr Babafemi was the management of the proceeds made by the states headed by these former governors through the sale of their states' shares in Econet Wireless, now Airtel. The three governors were being investigated by London's Metropolitan Police for laundering proceeds of the states funds into personal accounts in the UK.
However, Michael Aondoakaa, then minister of justice and attorney general, refused to co-operate with the Met claiming that the EFCC had cleared the three men of any wrongdoing.
What Mr Babafemi refused to disclose was that eight months before his statement, the EFCC did clear at least one of the governors.
In a letter dated January 21, 2009 and addressed to Adeptus Caxton of Martins Agbor and Segun, lawyers to Mr Attah, the EFCC stated that "investigation into this matter has been concluded and there is no case of money laundering established against your client." The letter was a response to that by Mr Attah's lawyers titled "Akwa-Ibom Investment and Industrial Promotion Council, African Development Fund Inc ."
The letter, signed by Umar Sanda, then Mrs Waziri's close aide, was Mr Attah's "get out of jail card" as it cleared him of any wrong doing as regards the disposal of Akwa-Ibom State shares in Econet, which was disposed through the African Development Fund, Inc.
When asked to clarify the reason for this clearance letter, Mr Babafemi said: "I am not aware of that (existence of the letter)".
It however appears Mrs Waziri had a change of mind long after the letter was delivered to Mr Attah. Five months after its clearance of the former governor and three months before Mr Babafemi's statement, the EFCC, in a letter addressed to Mr Aondoakaa, again indicted the former governors.
The letter, dated June 30, 2009, was a response to Mr Aondoakaa's letter written a day before and entitled "Money Laundering, African Development Fund Account No. 0140011552".
The letter, signed by Mrs Waziri, stated that "Delta, Lagos and Akwa-Ibom States invested in shares of V-mobile." The letter further stated that the states sold their shares and "disposed of proceeds through African Development Funds, Inc."
Indicting the three former governors, Mrs Waziri stated that "the respective state governors James Ibori, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, and Victor Attah converted the funds to their personal use."
Getting specific about Mr Attah, Mrs Waziri stated that "in the case of Akwa-Ibom, $18.5 million was realised from the sale of the shares.
"The funds from the transaction which were frozen in Access Bank were released on the written advice of the EFCC dated 12, January 2009."
While Mr Babafemi, two years after issuing his statement, claims that investigations are still ongoing on the Econet money laundering case, Mrs Waziri's letter guarantees Mr Attah freedom from prosecution.
Ibori is clean
The most bizarre of the clearance letters are those issued to Mr Ibori. Prior to Mrs Waziri's assumption of office, the former Delta State Governor was having it rough with the EFCC. The EFCC under its former chairman had cashed in on the loss of immunity by the former governor to arrest him and start his prosecution, even as he attempted to bribe Mr Ribadu with $15 million.
Apart from the EFCC, Mr Ibori was also being investigated by international agencies, particularly the London Met for corruption and money laundering. With the appointment of Mrs Waziri however, Mr Ibori saw an opportunity to escape prosecution. He wanted to be cleared of any wrongdoing by the EFCC as a way of weakening the case against him by the Met.
Two of the major evidences being used by both the EFCC and the Metropolitan police were Mr Ibori's corrupt links with Wing Aviation and Ascot Offshore.
I want clearance
Sensing that the controversy over Mrs Waziri's appointment had simmered down, Mr Ibori, who helped enthrone her, approached the EFCC boss for clearance, even when the allegations against him were still being investigated and a case pending against him in court. So, he got his lawyers to write Mrs Waziri requesting what one of our sources describes as a "get out of jail card". Investigations show that the EFCC chairperson promptly responded.
The letter, personally signed by her and dated December 22, 2008, reads in part, "From the record of investigation conducted, there was no nexus established between Mr James Ibori or the Delta States Government, and Wings Aviation Limited, nor was it established that Wings Aviation Limited was used to launder funds for on behalf of Mr James Ibori."
The letter was a response to an earlier one by Mr Ibori's counsel, Efere Ozako and Associates, dated December 11, 2009 and titled "Wings Aviation/ Captain Nogie Meggisen."
This newspaper was able to establish that although the EFCC letter was signed by Mrs Waziri, the content did not originate from her. It came from another source outside the EFCC, believed to be Mr Ibori himself.
Ibori drafts, Waziri signs
But Mr Ibori felt the letter was not exonerating enough. So the former governor made a hand-written amendment and asked his emissary to take the amended version back to Mrs Waziri for reissuance.
Explaining the rationale behind the clearance letter, Mr Babafemi said that "based on the investigation report, there was no record in the CAC (Corporate Affairs Commission) linking him with Wings Aviation."
When confronted that an EFCC investigator in a sworn affidavit at the court, as well as the Met established that Wings Aviation was used by Mr Ibori to launder funds, Mr Babafemi said: "What I know happened is that that letter was written based on the report available in the case file at that time."
Realising that his first letter of clearance over Wing Aviation deals, despite evidence to the contrary, wasn't sufficient particularly with the Met, an emboldened Mr Ibori asked for more.
In a letter by his counsel, Seni. M. Adio of Copley Partners, Lagos, and dated March 3, 2009, Mr Ibori sought clearance over any wrongdoing as regards Ascot Flowlines Limited.
EFCC investigators, as stated in an affidavit signed by Yahaya Bello, a lead investigator, at the Federal High Court Benin in 2007 established that Mr Ibori, through Henry Imasekha, a close associate, was involved in the ownership of Ascot.
But Mrs Waziri didn't mind weakening her agency's case against Mr Ibori. She issued him a letter without delay.
"There has been no nexus established between James O. Ibori or Delta State Government with Ascot offshore Nigeria Limited nor was it established that Ascot offshore Nigeria Limited was used to launder funds for on behalf of James O. Ibori and or Delta State government," Mrs Waziri wrote.
With these letters, Mrs Waziri and Mr Ibori thought, the former governor was not only free in Nigeria but also in the UK.
However, following pressure on Nigeria by the American authorities and other international organisations, the EFCC retraced its step, decided to cooperate and assist the Met and also to prosecute Mr Ibori. The former governor is currently in the UK where he is being prosecuted for money laundering.
Mr Babafemi, the commission's spokesman, again denied the existence of this letter.
According to him, "No, that was a forgery (the Ascot letter). I only know of one letter. Ascot is part of the issue that has led to the fleeing of Ibori from Nigeria."
Civil society reacts
According to Shehu Sani of the Civil Rights Congress, EFCC owes Nigerians a duty to tell which of the governors they have cleared and which of them they have not.
"The politics of clearance or not is simply to blackmail the former governors into silence and to revive their cases whenever they become critical of government," he said
Jiti Ogunye of Lawyers for Human rights said the fact that the letters were issued by Mrs Waziri in a very secretive manner without letting the public know these persons have been cleared of wrongdoing suggests that those who authored these letters knew that the letters were made to exonerate without any good reason.
"Otherwise," Mr Ogunye continued, "Mrs Waziri and EFCC would have gone public with these clearances the way they've been inundating the public with perceived success stories and achievements they've made."