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Diezanigate: Why FG must file application in US’ $144m forfeiture suit

In what can be likened to the proverbial words of ‘stitch in time saves nine’, a clarion call has gone to the Attorney- General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), to quickly do the needful in the pending $144 million forfeiture suit in the United States court.

As the US prosecutors begin the legal moves to auction $80 million Galactica Yacht and $51 million Manhattan Pent House property acquired by the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke’s associates, the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes, Hon. Kayode Oladele, has called on the Federal Government to enter appearance as an interested party in the suit to ensure that the proceeds of the auction are returned back to Nigeria.

The two business associates of Diezani, Mr. Gbenga Aluko and Mr. Jide Omokore had bought the said $80 million Galactica Yacht, $51million Pent house in Manhattan and other properties during their business relationship with the former minister.

But Oladele, who spoke during an exclusive interview with The Daily Times at the weekend in Abuja, said it is imperative for the Federal Government to take prompt action in filing application before the US court in order to ensure that the proceed of the auction is not trapped with the US government like the previous ones.

Hon Kayode Oladele

Oladele further disclosed that until the Federal Government files an application of third party appearance with the US government in the suit, Nigeria will not benefit anything from the proceeds of the auction at the end of the exercise.

According to the chairman of the House committee on Financial Crimes, the US is not bound to give Nigeria the proceeds of the auction on the grounds that the legal action was initiated at its instance, having spent a lot of money on the investigation of the illegal transactions by the dramatis personae.

He said: “I think we need to show interest. We need to enter an appearance in the suit as an interested party. The Federal Government has to take effective steps to also show that the money is returned to the country because Nigeria is the victim of these mindless spending.

“It is only when we enter an appearance and we let the court know that we are actually the sole owners of these monies, and we are the interested party the suit, that is the only way we can get the money back.

“We had such cases in past; a lot of these monies, proceeds of crime hanging abroad that other countries have helped us to recover but because of petty squabbles over who takes what, we have not been able to take concrete steps towards recovering those monies.

“And until we do that; until we come out to say that we are the sole owners of all these monies, I won’t be surprised if Nigeria will lose out on this one too in the end”.

Oladele further cautioned against repeating the mistake the country made in the case of Halliburton scam where the US government collected over $7 million.

He said: “In the case of Halliburton, the US government collected well over $7 million in penalty and sanction and I am not sure Nigeria has received any money on the matter because we did not make any effort in collecting the money from the US government.

“So, unless we make a demand, what happened to Halliburton monies and Abacha loot will still repeat itself here. Nothing has been given to the country from the Halliburton money.”

He also stressed the need to pass the Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Legal Matters Bill into law to ensure speedy dispensation of criminal cases.

His words: “This bill when passed into law, will empower the prosecuting agencies to go after proceeds of crimes instead of the owners. That is how it is done in advanced countries but with the law we have on ground here in Nigeria, you have to go after the owners of these properties and secure a conviction first before you can take any other move on the ill-gotten properties.

“To achieve this aim, we must be able to pass laws and go into mutual understanding or MOU’s with the international community.”

When asked on what the office of the AGF is doing to ensure that the mistake is not repeated, Oladele replied that he is sure that the AGF is making effort to ensure that Nigeria enters an appearance in the US suit.

He added that the AGF is currently studying some of the files to be well informed before joining in the suit and that at the appropriate time, Nigerians will know about the development.

The US prosecutors had on July 15, 2017, provided details of how Diezani and her two business cronies, Aluko and Omokore, lavished billions of naira on property and luxury items in the US and United Kingdom.

In a civil forfeiture notice filed by the US Department of Justice, the prosecutors detailed how Aluko and Omokore allegedly conspired to bribe the former minister through purchasing of property worth millions of dollars in London for Diezani and her family.

Aluko and Omokore are also being accused of buying a total of four residential properties in and around London worth $11.45m, and furnishing them with luxury items, including art work.

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