Ahead of preparation for the trial of a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, detectives from the United Kingdom have stormed Nigeria for what appeared a final lap of investigation.
The detectives, who met with the operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for additional fact-finding, have already spent a week in the country.
It was not certain if the latest bend of the investigation will last longer than a week, but there were indications that the detectives gathered more evidence and sought a few clarifications on some findings at their disposal.
It was learnt that the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill 2019, signed into law about a week ago by President Muhammadu Buhari, might help in the bid to confiscate Diezani’s assets at home and abroad.
The commission has so far traced N47.2 billion and $487.5 million to the ex-minister.
The agency also claimed that Diezani has N23,446,300,000 and $5 million (about N1.5 billion) in various Nigerian banks.
The EFCC has also secured final forfeiture orders on the following assets of Diezani: about $37.5 million Banana Island property; Heritage Court Estate, Plot 2C, Omerelu Street, Diobu Port Harcourt; 135 Awolowo Road/ Plot 808 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi; and 7, Hurnburn Street and 5, Raymond Street, Yaba, Lagos.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that the detectives from the UK came to fill some gaps in their investigation which has spanned almost four years.
The ex-minister, who was arrested since October 2, 2015, has been restricted to the UK with her probe costing fortunes.
Although there had been issues on whether or not to extradite Diezani, it was gathered that the depth of the ongoing probe revealed that she can be tried either in Nigeria or in the UK.
A reliable source said: “The detectives from the UK have been in Nigeria for a week in line with the ongoing investigation of Diezani.
“It is a major case the National Crime Agency (NCA) in the UK has been collaborating with the EFCC to probe.
“A few weeks ago, EFCC Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, was also in London to compare notes with similar agencies on this case.
“You will recall that Magu in November 2018 made it clear that Nigeria was tired of waiting for the trial of Diezani by the UK.
“But after the initial issues between EFCC and UK agencies, there were talks which revealed that those at the London end were making painstaking investigations.
“After Magu’s visit to London, the investigation of Diezani assumed enhanced dimension because some grey areas were cleared.
“The coming of the detectives from London was meant to fill some gaps, get additional evidence and crosscheck a few findings on their part.”
Responding to a question, the source added: “I think these detectives are on the final lap of the ongoing probe of Diezani.
“We are hopeful that the latest bend of investigation was in preparation for the trial of the ex-minister.”
Asked how long the UK detectives will stay in Nigeria, the source said: “I really don’t know. But it has been hectic in the last one week.”
The source, however, confirmed that the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2019, signed into law about a week ago by President Muhammadu Buhari, might help in confiscating Diezani’s assets at home and abroad.
The top source said: “The new law will certainly assist the EFCC and other security agencies in bringing some of these looters to justice.
“The new law will hasten EFCC’s action on Diezani and suspicious assets traced to her.
“Don’t forget that Sections 7, 28 and 34 of the EFCC (Establishment Act) 2004 and Section 13(1) of the Federal High Court Act, 2004 mandate the agency to seize suspicious assets.
Section 7 says: “The commission has power to (a) cause any investigations to be conducted as to whether any person, corporate body or organization has committed any offence under this Act or other law relating to economic and financial crimes.
“(b) cause investigations to be conducted into the properties of any person if it appears to the commission that the person’s lifestyle and extent of the properties are not justified by his source of income.”
Sections 28 and 34 of the EFCC (Establishment Act) 2004 and Section 13(1) of the Federal High Court Act, 2004 empower the anti-graft agency to invoke Interim Assets Forfeiture Clause.
“Section 28 of the EFCC Act reads: ‘Where a person is arrested for an offence under this Act, the Commission shall immediately trace and attach all the assets and properties of the person acquired as a result of such economic or financial crime and shall thereafter cause to be obtained an interim attachment order from the Court.’
Section 13 of the Federal High Court Act reads in part: “The Court may grant an injunction or appoint a receiver by an interlocutory order in all cases in which it appears to the Court to be just or convenient so to do.
(2) Any such order may be made either unconditionally or on such terms and conditions as the Court thinks just.”
No official of the EFCC was willing to make any comment at press time.
But the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Sen. Ita Enang, said the new law will enable other countries to also provide information to Nigeria, which could be used by the Attorney-General of the Federation to pursue such prosecutions.
He said: “It is intended to ensure that where there is a property that is subject of crime or there are crimes committed outside Nigeria or within Nigeria and the person leaves Nigeria, the provisions of the Act authorises the Attorney-General of the Federation, which is the designated authority in Nigeria, to pursue and use every means to prosecute the offence within and outside Nigeria.
“This Act does not apply to offences which are of political nature and it doesn’t apply to offences which relate to the military profession or offences which are not regarded as offences in the laws of Nigeria but which may be offence in the laws of other countries.
“It also enables us, Nigeria, to trace the proceeds of crime to restrain, constrain and in other matter, ensure that the proceeds of crime within or outside Nigeria is not disposed of on the basis of reciprocity.
Besides the properties in Lagos, the commission allegedly claimed in a document that Diezani allegedly bought choice mansions in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Yenagoa in Bayelsa State.
The document said: “On plot 10, Frederick Chiluba Close, in the serene, upscale Asokoro District of Abuja, lies a tastefully built and finished duplex.
“In the compound, there are also a guest chalet, boys’ quarters, an elegant swimming pool, fully equipped sports gym and a host of other amenities.
“Investigators have discovered that the property acquired by the ex-minister in December, 2009, at the cost of N400 million (Four Hundred Million Naira) was never declared in any of the asset declaration forms filed by Alison-Madueke.
“Also linked to the former Minister in Abuja is a mini estate at Mabushi, Abuja. The estate located on Plot 1205, Cadastral Zone B06, Mabushi Gardens Estate, houses 13 three bedroom terrace houses, each with one bedroom en-suite maid’s quarters.
“It was purchased on April 2, 2012 at the princely sum of N650 million (six hundred and fifty million naira).
“In Aso Drive, Maitama, Abuja, Alison-Madueke reportedly acquired a 6-bedroom en-suite apartment made up of three large living rooms, two-bedroom guest chalets, two bedroom boys quarters, two lock-up garages and a car park. It was bought on July 20, 2011 for N80 million (eighty million naira).
“Down South in Nigeria’s oil city of Port Harcourt, the former minister’s acquisitive appetite took her to Heritage Court Estate, located on Plot 2C, Omerelu Street, Diobu Government Residential Area, Phase 1 Extension, Port Harcourt.
“The Estate which is made up of 16 four-bedroom terrace duplexes is equipped with, among other facilities, a massive standby power generating set. Alison-Madueke did not blink as she shelled out N900 million (nine hundred million naira) for it on May 30, 2012,
“In neighbouring Bayelsa State, an apartment with two blocks of flats, all en-suite, and with a maids quarters were also traced to her. The house located on Goodluck Jonathan Road, Yenagoa is sitting on a large expanse of land.
“Realtors have placed estimated values running into hundreds of millions of naira on the property. The apartments have four living rooms, eight bedrooms and gold-plated furniture.
“Aside from jewellery and property, Alison-Madueke allegedly has N23,446,300,000 and $5 milion (about N1.5billion) in various Nigerian banks.”
Credit: The Nation