EFCC to Aondoakaa; release the 25 witnesses

The Attorney-General of the Federation Mr. Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) yesterday got a request for the release of 25 witnesses needed by the Metropolitan Police for the ongoing trial of three aides of ex-Governor James Ibori in London. The suspects on trial for alleged money laundering are Ibori’s sister, Christie Ibori-Ibie; his former Personal Assistant on Confidential Matters, Bimpe Pogoson; and Ms.

Udoamaka Onuigbo-Okoronkwo.

But, of the three suspects, the British Police yesterday at the Southwark Court 8 in London opposed the return of Onuigbo-Okoronkwo to Nigeria for trial alongside Ibori at the Federal High Court, Asaba.

The Nation reports that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) wrote to the AGF to invoke relevant clauses in the Mutual Legal Treaty Agreement (MLAT) for the release of the 25 witnesses.

A source, who spoke in confidence with their correspondent, said: “The letter was sent through the Office of the Secretary to the commission, Mr. Emmanuel Akonmaye, to the AGF for his action.

“You know we got a letter from the Met Police for the release of the 25 witnesses for an all-expense paid testimony before the court in London.

“The request borders on diplomatic issue and the invocation of the MLAT agreement. So, we need the fiat of the AGF to release the witnesses.“We have secured the understanding of the AGF on this request.

All attempts to get the list of the 25 witnesses proved futile last night.A source said: “For security reasons, we cannot make the list public now. If we do, they will undergo tremendous pressure which may change the course of the matter in London.

The AGF on Sunday said his office was prepared to release the witnesses if there is a request from the EFCC.Aondoakaa said: “On the issue of 25 witnesses needed by the Met Police, nobody has brought that information to my notice and immediately I saw the publication in the papers today, I contacted the Secretary of the EFCC, Mr. Emmanuel Akonmaye, who said they will be bringing whatever they have got from the Metropolitan Police on the next working day as regards the witnesses to testify in Ibori’s case. “I have no request on my desk in relation to these witnesses. As soon as my office receives the request, it will be treated with dispatch and as the law requires. “Let me make it clear on record that every Nigerian has a constitutional right of free movement and freedom of expression and, therefore, the Office of the AGF will not breach the constitution by stopping anybody from testifying before any tribunal or court in Nigeria or outside, including the UK. That is the true fact.”

In London, the Judge rejected a plea by the defence counsel to ban web portals and some Nigerian newspapers from publishing what they considered “unsavoury reports”.

“The judge said he could not ban them because he does not have jurisdiction on them,” a source at the hearing told The Nation.

It was, however, learnt that the British Police also refused moves by one of the defence counsel to have Ms. Onuigbo-Okoronkwo, a close confidant of the ex-governor, extradited to Nigeria.

The source said: “All attempts by the defence to have Ms Okoronkwo returned to Nigeria were opposed by the counsel for the prosecution, Lady M Wass QC, counsel.“The prosecution insisted that the case in London has no bearing with the one before a Federal High Court in Nigeria.

In a statement in Abuja, the Special Assistant (Media) to ex-Governor James Ibori, Mr. Tony Eluemunor, said Ibori’s camp saw the prosecution’s refusal to grant the request for the repatriation of Ms Oniugbo-Okoronkwo as an abuse of hearing.

The statement reads in part: “The abuse of hearing today (Wednesday) was in respect of the British Police refusing consent for Okoronkwo to be returned to Nigeria to face the real case against her in Nigeria. “Her defence set out the position that the Police had orchestrated and manipulated the circumstances, thereby preventing her from properly defending herself where the alleged offences are said to have occurred and before a competent Nigerian court.

“The general theme running through these proceedings as defence lawyer Tim Owen QC eloquently put it is ‘that the prosecution had acted without candour. There is no honesty or truthfulness’. “Okoronkwo’s defence has been asking for some very important pieces of documents which have now mysteriously disappeared.

The court heard that these highly relevant documents have simply ‘gone missing’ from the Police files. The court was astonished. “Frustrated at prosecution’s Ms Wass QC’s failure to deal with matters in good faith, Andrew Trollope openly accused the Crown of playing “fast and loose”.

“Trollope QC now seems very much in control of the court, raised very serious complaints with the Judge: “These are utterly inadequate explanations. The prosecution needs to produce proper material … we will not accept superficial responses from Ms Wass”.

“Defence lawyers, happy with the day’s proceedings, say that what is now becoming clearer and clearer is that there is no case to answer in London.

There is no evidence to support the allegations of money laundering. The case has now shifted to one of inference and circumstances.

“The defence wants to prove that the integrity of the investigation is compromised beyond repair at a number of levels.