The Minister of Foreign Affairs Implicated In The Ongoing Investigation Over The Nigerian Embassy Banking Scandal
- Category: GENERAL
- Published on Wednesday, 27 June 2012 02:20
- Written by Elombah.com
Information reaching Elombah.com indicates that the problems of the Nigerian Embassy bank accounts in Washington, DC are much bigger than previously suspected. The startling revelations show that Ambassador Adefuye did not act alone. Indications have emerged showing that Nigerian Ambassador to US, Adebowale
Adefuye worked either in concert or with the full approval of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru.
Nigerian Ambassador to US, Adebowale Adefuye
Elombah.com investigations show that apart from the allegations of money laundering, it is now clear that the bigger problem may have to do with the disbursement or withdrawals of millions of dollars, proceeds of the sale of several Embassy properties in the Washington DC area between 2004 and 2007. Funds realized from the sale, in excess of 20 million dollars, were lodged in a special account approved by the Federal Government in M & T Bank.
How to spend those funds has been a key bone of contention since the days of Ambassador Oluwole Rotimi and his then Minister of foreign affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, Elombah.com learnt. While Ambassador Rotimi wanted to access those funds immediately, even against the special deposit arrangement with M & T Bank, some officers of the Embassy felt otherwise and worked hard to discourage him. Also, Maduekwe had his own peculiar ideas and plans for the disbursement of the funds. Apparently it was in the context of the squabbles and intrigues over those funds, that the Embassy lawyer at that time, Emeka Ugwuonye, was dragged into the controversy, with the allegations that he was not authorized to keep the 1.5 million dollars refund from sale of the properties that his law firm said they retained against their fees.
It would appear, that the current Ambassador finally had a Minister of External Affairs willing to allow him access to the funds.
The attention of Elombah.com was drawn to this line of inquiry when it was discovered that President Jonathan had invited the EFCC into this matter directly by himself.
At the media chat last Sunday, President Jonathan had said, “Only yesterday, I directed EFFC to go and investigate our bank accounts in the US because there was this story in one paper that the US authorities are looking into, because there are some money transfers and so on.”
Government observers have wondered why the President did not ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs to invite the EFCC to investigate the matter, as he did in the case of oil subsidy fraud allegations.
Recall that in that case, the President authorized the Minister of Petroleum to invite the EFCC. Why did the President himself directly invite the EFCC in the case of the Embassy? As we pressed for answers over this question, a person in a position to know the truth of what is going on told Elombah.com that the President’s approach over the matter was a clear of vote of no confidence on the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Government sources say the Minister had submitted a report on the matter to the President. But it turned out the report was clearly inadequate and seemed to be intended to cover-up what happened to the millions of dollars in the Embassy accounts.
“The failure of Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru to properly investigate such a serious issue only shows bias”, Elombah.com was told.
Suspecting that the Minister was not forthcoming, the President’s immediate staffs were invited to review the report against certain known facts and trends on the matter. It was discovered that given the magnitude of the problems, it would have been impossible for the Ambassador to act alone without support or connivance with his supervising Minister.
The M & T Bank account
The Nigeria Embassy placed about 25 million dollars it realized from the sales of Nigeria properties in the M & T Bank. By end of 2007, there was about 25 million dollars in that account. But by February of 2011, the balance of the account was drawn down to 15 million dollars without any explanation.
The real estate transactions happened during the Obasanjo adminsitration, after Nigerian Embassy moved from its previous locations at 1333 16th Street, NW, and the ‘M’ Street, NW, to its current edifice located at 3519 International Court, NW, where many other embassies are located.
When the offices were moved, the properties stopped being maintained and there were complaints filed against the Embassy for the unkempt premises, prompting the State Department to issue warnings to the Embassy. Again, two of the houses occupied by the Ambassador and his deputy had become dilapidated, especially the Ambassador’s house on Connecticut Avenue, NW, was located on a noisy heavily trafficked road. The deputy ambassador’s office at Woodlawn had also deteriorated, and was being eaten away by ants.
That was when a directive from the Obasanjo presidency, through the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alhaji Sule Lamido, for the four buildings and houses to be sold.
The then Ambassador of Nigeria to Washington, DC, Prof. George Obiozor, decided to set up a 7-man property management committee to manage the sales of the properties, with the then deputy chief of mission, Ambassador Okon I. Udoh, as chairman of the committee. A specific instruction from the presidency was that the Ambassador’s house on Connecticut Avenue should not be sold for less than the amount used in purchasing the house on the Potomac, a much more secluded area.
More than $20 million was realised for the sale of those four properties. Instructions were issued from the presidency that the money should be deposited in a specialized account, and the money remained in that account.
However, when Brigadier-General Oluwole Rotimi arrived in Washington, March, 2008 as the Ambassador of Nigeria to the U.S., and saw this huge amount of money, first he tried to take control of the account on the pretext that his officers were not being paid. But senior officials at the Embassy seriously warned him that the money was not to be touched. Then he turned around and began to suspect that something was not right, that there must have been some kind of corruption that went with the sale of the properties.
What Ambassador Oluwole Rotimi couldn’t believe was that there were some very honest civil servants - career diplomats if you wish - who believed in transparency. He began covertly probing his predecessor, Ambassador Obiozor, who ignorant of what was going on, was enthusiastically doing everything to ensure a smooth transition and also introduction to his colleagues.
The Lawyer that handled the real estate transactions for the embassy, Mr Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye told Elombah.com that the Ugwuonye versus the Embassy’s $1.55 million refund should not have been brought into the sordid and indefensible utterances of Ambassador Rotimi, but the more one looks at it, it begins to assuredly show that he indeed wanted to take control of the $25 million before honest career diplomats at the Embassy thwarted his ambitions. Moreover, no Ambassador could utilize that fund without clearance from the Minister of External affairs. Each property transaction was directly authorized and initiated from Abuja. It was indeed a brazen attempt at trying to do business as usual in the Nigerian corrupt way.
How the current is Minister implicated
Foreign affairs analysts confirmed to Elombah.com that, no Ambassador could utilize that fund without clearance from the Minister of External affairs.
“First, the systems of checks and balance in place are such that the Embassy could not alone execute the schemes or measures that appear to have been executed. The Embassy may start it, but to sustain it, it would need the cooperation of the Minister”.
A source also told Elombah.com that every six months, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends a team of inspectors to its major foreign missions, like the US and the UK, to inspect the accounts of the Embassies. “This is the time to detect any irregularities in the Embassy’s banking records”.
However, the Ministry under the current Minister never detected any problems, even though millions of dollars are not being accounted for as evidenced from the massive withdrawals from the M&T Bank account.
The huge deposit in the accounts had always been a cause of quarrel between the Embassy and the Ministry until now. It is understood that even members of Nigeria’s Foreign Service in other parts of the world who are aware of the funds in Washington have lobbied one way or the other for a share of those funds, presumably for their foreign services needs. Among these are particularly Embassy officials who served in Washington before being posted elsewhere, like Ambassador Baraya and Ambassador Wakili. Both were at some point Deputy Head of Mission in Washington. They were aware of the funds before they were posted out of Washington (to an European country for Baraya as an Ambassador and to Egypt for Wakili as an Ambassador). They knew the money existed and they might have lobbied the Ministry to access the funds for the needs of their missions. Indeed the tension around the funds has been significant, elombah.com learnt.
It is also believed that the explosive tension that existed between Ambassador Rotimi and Chief Ojo Maduekwe had to do with the fact that the two men could not reach the understanding they needed to be able to access the funds. The fight between them helped save the money until later days.
Analysts also pointed out that the behavior of the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the ongoing stories about the Embassy account has been rather strange. Throughout the past week, every effort to get information from the Ministry led to someone or another pleading for patience and understanding. There was considerable effort to mislead the press, constantly asking for patience.
Why would a Ministry not be able to explain a simple matter about the bank account of its Embassy? Instead, the Ministry kept redirecting all inquiries to the Embassy. And finally, when the Embassy posted a weak and feeble statement on its website, stating that the embassy account was closed but not frozen. The Embassy also denied money laundering stating that the embassy account was closed because of a US Law - The Patriot Act. The Ministry was so eager to point to that statement as if it could have answered all the questions. To worsen the situation, when effort was made to obtain more information from the Ministry on Monday this week, the Ministry officials handed out a printout of the report of a news website, Huhuonline.com.
Many journalists were frustrated that such an online report was made a substitute for the explanation that the Ministry ought to have.
Journalists spoken to on this matter complained that they were supposed to obtain information from the Ministry, and not for the Ministry to use news reports as its explanation. “Why make a simple thing look like a maze”? They wondered.
It was clear that whatever is going on in Washington, the Ministry has much interest in covering it up, some concluded.
"Apparently, there has been a massive cover-up right from Washington, to Abuja on what actually happened."
How much money was realized from the sale of the properties in the United States, where were the funds kept, how the funds were spent, etc Up till date, enquiries from the embassy will say “over $20m was realized from the sale" without giving actual figures.
Sources within the Presidency indicate that the President is taking the Embassy matter seriously. He is bypassing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Minister in order to get to he bottom of these allegations. The same sources indicated that the Minister is as much a target of investigation as the Ambassador.
Elombah.com will be following up on further development