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Again, Aondoakaa shields Ibori from trial!

The Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) did not wait for 24 hours to elapse before clearing the former Delta State governor, Chief James Ibori, over the sale of the state’s shares to Vmobile around 2007 yesterday. Also cleared by the anti-graft agency in respect of the same deal, according to Aondoakaa, are former Lagos State Governor Bola Tinubu and his former AkwaIbom State counterpart, Obong Victor Attah.

But the minister was silent on recent allegation that the Delta State government offered its 820 million units of shares in Oceanic International Plc to Ascot Offshore Nigeria Limited to secure a N44billion-loan from Intercontinental Bank Plc in 2007.

In a THISDAY report, Aondoakaa alleged that former EFCC chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, was working against President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s administration from abroad.
He said Ribadu had continued to give false information to the British Government about situation in Nigeria.

In a petition filed during the tenure of Ribadu as EFCC chairman, the three former governors were alleged to have sold the shares of their states to Celtel (now Zain) through a company called African Development Funds Incorporated.
The transaction was said not to be transparent and also proceeds of the sale was alleged to have been used for money laundering.
Aondoakaa said the revelation about the clearance of the former governors emerged following a request from the British Government for more information about the deal.
The minister said he was not aware of the case until the Home Office in Britain sought for information on the case on June 1, 2009.
After he got the letter from Britain, the minister said he requested for the file and was furnished with information on the case on June 22.
Aondoakaa said: “This case has to do with Vmobile shares involving three former governors, Chief James Ibori of Delta State, Senator Bola Tinubu of Lagos State and Obong Victor Attah of AkwaIbom State. I was not aware of the case when I assumed office. I got a request for Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) from Britain on the 1st of June. There is a company called African Development Funds Incorporated. The company was engaged to sell the shares of the state to Vmobile (Celtel).
“While the transaction was going on, EFCC got information that the transaction was not transparent and that it was to be used for money laundering. EFCC started their investigation. I was not the AGF when it started. The EFCC said Access Bank was the bank used during the transactions.
“During investigation, it was gathered that the EFCC ordered Access Bank to stay action on the deal that the commission was investigating the deal. Later, the EFCC wrote the bank that the issued had been cleared.”
In the clearance letter entitled “Re: Alleged Case of Conspiracy, Money Laundering, Abuse of Office and Official Corruption. African Development Fund Inc. Account No. 011400552” dated the 12th of January, 2009 and signed by Umar Sanda on behalf of the chairman of the commission, EFCC said: “Our letter with ref no. CR:300/EFCC/LS/EG2/ VOL.2/266 dated 21st March, 2007 on the above subject matter refers:
“In view of the above you are kindly requested to remove the caution placed on the account and allow normal transactions on the account.”
Aondoakaa further said the former governors had been cleared before Britain requested for the details of the case. 
He also denied the allegation that the agreement to the deal was signed by the current Principal Private Secretary to the President, Mr. David Edevbie, who worked with Ibori when he was the governor of Delta State.
The minister said: “At the time the request was made, EFCC had cleared the former governors. I didn’t ask the EFCC to clear the former governors after I got the request from Britain. All they have done is to embarrass the government. I can’t grant any request if all the ingredients of the offences were committed here.

This is not the first time the Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa has rushed to James Ibori’s aid. According to a National Daily report; Special thanks to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Kasse Aondoakaa, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Ibori out-smart Assistant Inspector General (AIG) Farida Waziri (rtd) and her colleagues at the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) to compromise on the criminal cases preferred against him.

James Ibori, the notorious former governor of Delta State who has been indicted for corruption, is behind the near-collapse of two banks; Oceanic and Inter-Continental banks – whose managements were dissolved by the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN).

According to reports, Ibori had promised Mr. Akingbola (the sacked CEO of InterContinental bank) that he will prevail on Yar’adua to stop Sanusi from sacking InterContinetal bank management last month, but Sanusi acted faster than he’d expected.

The EFCC had arrested Ibori after the 2007 general election when he had handed over to his successor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan. The Federal High Court remanded him in prison custody but released him eventually on strongest of bail conditions. As soon as the former governor, who was said to be one of the late General Sani Abacha’s secret allies, was granted bail, he began to work seriously on modalities for his safe landing.
He allegedly applied his deft persuasive and manipulative skills within the EFCC headquarters in Abuja, and the Presidential Villa in Asokoro.

How has managed to convince Yar’adua to cover shield him from prosecution all this while? Blackmail, sources said!

National Daily reported that Ibori had threatened to expose the secrets of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP’s victory in the 2007 elections, particularly how President Umaru Yar’Adua won or did not win the election and the details of the role played by the Independent Election Commission (INEC) and the security agents.

National Daily reports:

Ibori, according to knowledgeable sources, also vowed to reveal some shocking secrets about some senior staff of the EFCC including their hidden properties and monetary assets. He allegedly warned that he will expose the details of the looting of multi-million naira recovered from public officers, businessmen and other fraudsters. The enraged PDP chieftain allegedly accused Yar’Adua and some party leaders of betrayal, warning that he will not go down alone.

“Ibori said he will expose everything; the secrets of 2007 election, how INEC and the security Agencies were compromised. He said some senior staff of EFCC past and present are hypocrites wondering how they were able to own millions of naira in secret accounts administered by proxy and also acquired numerous exquisite properties worth millions of naira.

National Daily sources said that Ibori’s threat to expose government officials, PDP, Minister of Justice and EFCC achieved the intended result as he was invited to Aso Rock for discussion on how to resolve the vexatious matter.
Sources said Ibori did not hesitate to bare his mind when he finally met with President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and later with National Security Adviser, General Sarki Muktar (rtd) and Aondoakaa.

Sources close to the former Delta State governor confided that Ibori reminded Yar’Adua about the role he played in his emergence as president in 2007, lamenting that the president and PDP have chosen to reward him with public disgrace.

Ibori, according to sources, estimated his expenses during the 2007 presidential election campaign to be about N10 billion with the condition that he will not be prosecuted by any of the security agencies when he finally vacates the Delta State Government House.

Sources in Ibori’s political circle disclosed that Yar’Adua who was listening attentively to his erstwhile colleague tried to calm him down. He allegedly absolved himself of any responsibility for his ordeal explaining that he only allowed the security agencies to discharge their duties according to the constitution.
The President promised to consult with government agencies and important individuals on the strategy to be applied in saving him from his ordeal.

Ibori later met with the National Security Adviser, Sarki Muktar. He allegedly advised the NSA not to accept any suggestion that the case involving him is a legal matter, because some of the funds which he allegedly looted from the state treasury were spent on the benefit of certain former government officials and the ruling PDP.
“When I donated several millions to the Presidential Library initiated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, EFCC did not raise eye brows, I was approached to source for billions of naira to finance Yar’Adua’s election campaign but no one objected to this. When I left office they now realized that Ibori stole from Delta State funds” Ibori allegedly queried.

Muktar in response allegedly rinsed his hands off whatever misfortune that befell Ibori. He said that the decision whether to arrest or prosecute former governors accused of financial crime was entirely taken by the erstwhile chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu. Muktar was said to have explained that his office is responsible for National Security delicate issues like threat to lives and property, arms insurrection, acts capable of causing disintegration of the country, civil strife, muting by the Armed Forces etcetera. He advised his forlorn guest to reach out to the relevant agencies to discuss the way out of his dilemma.

National Daily learned that Ibori desperate to get the reprieve he so much desired took his case to former PDP Board member, Chief Tony Anenih aka Mr. Fix It, PDP National Chairman Vincent Ogbulafor, Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, whom he also had a hand in his appointment, and former National Secretary of PDP now External Affairs Minister, Ojo Maduekwe.

The PDP Chieftains were said to have given Ibori the assurances that the case against him will eventually fizzle out.
Ibori was said to have particularly pleaded with Anenih to use his influence in Aso Rock to convince President Yar’Adua to personally intervene in the matter. Anenih, according to sources, told Ibori to calm down that he should consider his request done.

Ibori is believed to be one of the PDP henchmen who played a vital role in the emergence of Ogbulafor as the party’s chairman. So, it is now payback time. Ogbulafor, sources said, promised to do everything within his power to ensure that he was not convicted by the trial court.

The Justice Minister, Michael Aondoakaa, who is said to have been a close friend of Ibori even before he was appointed into office allegedly told Ibori that he will study his case so as to discover the loopholes to capitalize upon in ensuring that the case died a natural death.

Maduekwe was said to have also expressed his sympathy for the troubled former Delta State governor, He said that as a lawyer he would liaise with Aondoakaa to strategize on how to absolve him totally from the allegation against him.

National Daily learned that Yar’Adua discussed the Ibori matter with Anenih, Ogbulafor, Aondoakaa and Maduekwe.

It was resolved that the President should use his influence to secure reprieve for their loyal party member who did so much to help the party achieve certain goals.

Ibori’s much tainted influence among Niger Delta militants and politicians were also considered in the decision to give him a safe landing.
Ibori was factored to play a leading role in Yar’Adua’s re-election plans in 2011. He has since been announced as a member of the PDP’s elders committee.

“The militants may totally reject any rapprochement from the Federal Government if Ibori was convicted. Furthermore, PDP may lose elections in the region in 2011 as a protest against the fate that befell their eminent son,” our source said.

National Daily sources revealed that Yar’Adua later summoned the Justice Minister, Aondoakaa and gave him the go-ahead to find a solution to Ibori’s corruption trial. That he should work with EFCC chairman, Farida Waziri to effectively and conclusively resolve the case in Ibori’s favour.

Sources said that Aondoakaa carried out the President’s instruction with astounding speed. He allegedly held several meetings with EFCC Chairman, Waziri, and some of the commission’s top lawyers to gain a common ground on how to conclusively discharge the Ibori financial profligacy case. The EFCC at the end mandated an independent lawyer to critically study the allegations against Ibori, outline the legal weakness in the case of the prosecution and recommend how to puncture the lacunas based on the points of law.

The independent lawyer was said to have recommended that Ibori’s trial be transferred from Kaduna High Court to Asaba High Court so as to create an enabling ground for the final evacuation of the allegations against Ibori.
EFCC lawyers acting the script on the agreement between Ibori, Aso Rock and EFCC under the coordination of the AGF, allegedly encouraged Ibori’s counsel to apply for the charges against him to be “quashed and thereby leading to terminating the criminal proceedings.”

The EFCC deliberately did not provide adequate witnesses to sustain its charges against the accused, at the last hearing at the Federal High Court, Asaba, Delta State. This explains why Ibori’s lawyers decided to exploit that at this early stage of the trial to knock off the case.

In an interview with reporters, counsel to EFCC, Ibrahim Isiyaku said “the application to quash the case was filed because they feel our evidence cannot sustain the charges. They have a right to do this now or they could plead a no-case submission after we may have called our witnesses.”

Counsel to Ibori, Austin Alegeh (SAN) who also spoke to reporters stated clearly that “it will be a waste of the court’s time and abuse of court process to embark on a trial when it is very obvious that EFCC has no witnesses and cannot sustain the charges.”

Emmanuel Okosun of Alegeh’s chambers classified all the 170-count charges against Ibori into “13 clusters” for ease of reference; all said to be punishable either under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act of 2003 or that of 2004. Having outlined the clauses, Alegeh said in the application that the EFCC has failed to show in any way, and in all instances, that any “offence has been disclosed against any of the accused”.

Alegeh’s motion, was hinged on three main planks; One, that “none of the counts disclose a prima facie case against any or all of the accused persons”, that is Ibori or any of his co-accused. Two, “the accused persons are not in any way linked to the offence of money laundering as charged by prosecution”. Three, “Constitutionally, the charges are incompetent as they constitute Delta State business or affairs of state which the Federal Government of Nigeria or any of its agencies such as the EFCC is incompetent to inquire into”.

Alegeh specifically claimed in section (g) of the application; “That in other words, the accused persons are not linked to any of the allegations made in the 170-count charge”. Actually, this is at the heart of the application; that what EFCC has done so far is to claim that Ibori or his associates may have moved money, but, so far, failed to show how the accused persons moved any moneys from a particular bank to another, the dates of such movement, from which bank account to another.

According to Alegeh’s application, “that in particular, as all but one of the counts are based on Money Laundering Charges, it is vital that the prosecution disclose, prima facie, the illegality of the said sums in other words, it must show the predicate offence of corruption allegedly committed by the 1st accused or any of the other accused persons”. Alegeh therefore held that “the prosecution has not been able to meet this vital requirement because such illegality or proof of corruption does not exist, prima facie or at all, on the face of the documents annexed to the charge”.

Moreover, Alegeh held that the “EFCC, (a federal agency) is constitutionally unsuited to inquire into the allegations of corruption by or against functionaries of a State Government; this explains the commission’s inability to provide cogent materials upon which to hinge a proper trial.
Ibori’s counsel therefore asked for the case to be quashed on the grounds; “That the prosecution herein attempting to fulfill that requirement had supplied voluminous proof of evidence in a bid to show that these materials upon which the case was predicated, but that after critically perusing these documents which include statements of prosecution witnesses, names of prosecution witnesses, documentary evidence and statements from the accused person, it is apparent on the face of the said documents that no offence has been disclosed against any of the accused persons”.

Ibori was alleged to have showed his gratitude by promising to compensate some EFCC officials with money said to be several millions of naira.
It was not certain at press time if it is true that a part of the promised recompense has been handed to the Ministry of Justice and EFCC collaborators.

But competent sources within the anti-corruption agency which has come under serious attacks from the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton disclosed that from the moment Waziri took over EFCC it was clear the Ibori corruption trial would soon die a natural death. Reason: The Justice Minister was said not to have minced words in warning the EFCC boss against pursuing the charges against Ibori as Ribadu and later Ibrahim Lamurde were hell-bent on doing.

Specifically, when the former Delta governor secured the transfer of the case from Kaduna to Delta State where a High Court was hurriedly created, efforts by the EFCC to appeal the ruling was frustrated by the AGF who vehemently warned Waziri against the action.

Even when the controversial independent legal advice on the trial was contracted to a team of lawyers led by a SAN, with a mandate to The aim of this opinion is to examine/weigh the charges and the proof of evidence with a view to establishing the chances of a successful prosecution, it was clear to all and sundry within the EFCC and those outside the commission but in the know of the manipulations that the findings would never make any impacts. And true to expectations, rather than seek to dot the Is and cross the Ts in the charges and over all investigation of the alleged case of corruption against Ibori, the EFCC leaked the documents to Ibori lawyers who studied it and knew exactly how to puncture the trial and possibly get the court to quash it.

Unwilling to face the wrath of the public, Waziri had sought to withdraw the case from the court and order a fresh investigation so as to tighten the loose ends identified in the independent legal advice but was cowed into letting sleeping dogs lie. She was allegedly summoned to the residence of the AGF where Ibori was also waiting, and was warned to let the matter continue in court.

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