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Abacha loot recovery: Lawyers wade into dispute between US senator, EFCC

Economic and Financial Crimes Commission

By Ikenna Anyanwu

Senior Nigerian lawyers have weighed-in on recent altercation between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and Senator Charles Grassley, the Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Finance, expressing concern at the exchange of words.

Grassley reportedly wrote a letter to the Chairman of the Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section of the US Department of Justice in which he called for the stoppage of the repatriation of funds estimated at over $300million recovered from bank accounts linked to the late General Sani Abacha.

According to the report, Grassley accused the EFCC and its acting Chairman, Mr Ibrahim Magu, as well as the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, of bias against critics and political opponents of the Buhari administration in the fight against corruption.

The EFCC, in a response, insisted that there was no iota of bias in the commission’s handling of corruption cases under Magu, saying the anti-corruption battle being fought by the Commission has been “impartial, objective and non-discriminatory.

“The agency, in a position made public by its acting spokesperson, Mr Tony Orilade, noted that the senator’s accusations failed to address the efforts of Magu to tackle corruption without fear or favour, cooperating with the U.S. in fighting cybercrimes and in the transparent and accountable handling of recovered funds.

Malami, on his part, dismissed the U.S. lawmaker’s assertions as baseless.A senior lawyer, Mr Martin Okpaleke, who is the proprietor of a Victoria Island, Lagos law firm, Gerald-Martin & Company, called for the de-escalation of the apparent tension by toning down of the rhetoric by both sides.

While commending the senator and the U.S government for their consistent interest in the work of Nigeria’s law enforcement agencies, particularly the EFCC, Okpaleke said the concerns raised in the lawmaker’s letter and his accusations are not sufficient grounds for him or anybody to call for the money not to be returned to Nigeria considering “that there is no dispute that the monies are Nigeria’s public funds that were unlawfully taken out of Nigeria and unlawfully domiciled in bank accounts within U.S. jurisdiction”.

The senior lawyer expressed disappointment that EFCC’s work appears to be suffering from what he described as “a mostly politically induced negative perception of the Commission’s efforts as being unfairly targeted at critics and political opponents of the Buhari administration.

“Okpaleke contended that such perception is not borne out of facts given that politicians of the current ruling party as well as its supporters have been investigated and are still being investigated by the Commission over alleged infrctions, with some already prosecuted and convictions obtained in court while several others are currently being prosecuted.He suggested that attention should be refocused by the public, including the senator, the U.S., the U.K. government, and the European Union, E.U., to other areas of the EFCC’s work to combat money laundering, financial crimes and cyber crimes in which, he said, the Commission has excelled and attained the highest global standards and is cooperating with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI.

Okpaleke said such model of cooperation between EFCC and the FBI should have been one of the areas of focus by the senator with a view to encouraging cooperation.

The senior member of the Bar pointed out that EFCC does not deliver justice alone but works with courts, thus making it imperative that those criticizing the Commission ought to be circumspect and mindful of the limits of EFCC’s powers.Okpaleke emphasized that the National Assembly has a role to play in bolstering the efforts of EFCC and he called for Magu’s name to be re-presented to the Senate for confirmation and he urged the Senate to confirm his appointment.

According to him, the creditable performance of Magu in acting capacity means that refusal by the last Senate to confirm his appointment was a serious error.However, he called on the EFCC, which he felt had an excellent public relations unit, to do more to change some of the negative perceptions of the Commission’s work and performance.On Grassley’s claim that the Commission and boss are “agents of oppression”, Okpaleke condemned such characterization, contending that it was wrong to personalise issues to the extent of reducing the actions of a corporate law enforcement entity to the person of the leading member of its management.

He called on the EFCC to be more open to plea bargains by suspects or defendants and to work more closely with the courts in appropriate cases, utilising the plea bargain innovation in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, as amended.

The lawyer suggested that the Commission should also respect the informal classification of infractions into “process” or “administrative” crimes such as unwitting flouting of the KYC (Know Your Customer/Client) requirements of money laundering statutes by defendants other than banks and financial and allied institutions where it is apparent that such defendants inherently lack the wherewithal to consistently conduct the necessary due diligence in financial transactions

.Okpaleke said such approach would help to negate the perception that the Commission seeks the destruction and not just the punishment and reform of those it prosecutes.Publicly available information seems to support some of the observations of Okpaleke.

Courts, particularly the Federal High Court, appear to tend to approve plea bargain agreements entered into by the EFCC and defendants, with defendants receiving lesser punishment, suggesting that the “oppressive” tag foisted on the EFCC by Grassley may after all without basis.Outside plea bargain involving public officials and politically exposed persons is the arrangement in EFCC’s case against one Mr Saeed Hussain at the Federal High Court, Lagos.

In Suit No.FHC/L/CS/94A/2019, he had been charged with the violation of KYC requirements of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011(as amended) in the course of monetary transaction with one of his customers.

The defendant, who had no prior criminal record and cooperated throughout with the Commission in its investigations, succumbed to ill health in the course of his prosecution but eventually submitted to plea bargain, pleaded guilty, convicted by the court and sentenced to a huge amount of fine, and to an undertaking to the Federal Government concerning future lawful conduct of his business and that of his companies.

That particular defendant, according to sources, has since remained law-abiding and keeping to the terms of the undertaking while EFCC, on its part, withdrew the charges against him.And contrary to the U.S senator’s generalised imputation of bad faith to EFCC’s efforts, the striking out of other charges filed against Hussain at the Federal High Court at the instance of the Commission due to the defendant’s earlier conviction speaks well of the Commission’s good faith and integrity under Magu.

Another instance is the case of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, former spokesman, Chief Olisa Metu, who was prosecuted by EFCC before the Federal High Court, Abuja, and convicted and sentenced to custodial punishment.

In his judgement, Justice Abang suggested that Metu could have explored plea bargain with the Commission and had opportunity of doing so but for his pride.No irrefutable, specific factsKieran Enechi, Senior Partner, Index Law, Lagos, on his part, stated that the senator’s claims against EFCC were hot but reckless.

According to him, he expected such a ranking figure to come out with irrefutable facts that constituted the alleged “unfairness” by the EFCC Chairman; complete with names, dates, places, figures and lucid description of incidents involved. “In the absence of these, it would appear as if certain interests are targeting this most tested and untainted anti-corruption czar”, he said.

“There are multiplicities of evidence, both in and outside the courts, that eloquently bear out the records of EFCC’ s resoluteness, in spite of some inefficiencies of its operating environment.”He said it was alarming that the said US lawmaker allegedly recommended that his home government should detain the funds belonging to Nigeria on account of his wild allegations against Magu and Malami”Under what international law is such strange recommendation premised? he asked.

  • Anyanwu is a public affairs analyst


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Posted by on Apr 26 2020. Filed under American Politics, Corruption Politics, EFCC Politics, Headlines, Latest Politics, Top Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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