Vmobile Shares: Ibori Cleared, Says Aondoakaa

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By Funso Muraina and Yemi Akinsuyi, Abuja
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Justice Minister Michael Aondoakaa (SAN) yesterday said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has cleared the former Delta State governor, Chief James Ibori, over the sale of the state's shares to Vmobile around 2007.

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.

Aondoakaa, who spoke with newsmen in his office in Abuja, 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.

The minister also said the probe of Halliburton bribe scandal involving some top government officials was still ongoing and that government had not abandoned it.

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 Akwa Ibom 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.

“It is a lie that I have ordered the cases of the ex-governors to be withdrawn. The cases are still going on. I will not succumb to blackmail. I have not stopped any case. You are appointed into office subject to the confirmation of the Senate. I will sue him (Ribadu) if he comes to Nigeria and say all that he is saying abroad.”

On the Halliburton bribery scandal, Aondoakaa said the retirement of former Inspector-General of Police Mike Okiro from the Police Force slowed down the work of the committee set up to look into the scam.

Okiro as the IGP was the chairman of the inter-security agency committee set up by the Federal Government to look into the scam.

Aondoakaa said the N50 million approved for the committee to do its work had been released by his office.

Meanwhile, officials of EFCC have recovered official bank documents and other companies' documents from one of the associates of the former Chief Executive Officer of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Mr. Erastus Akingbola.

Akingbola is one of the five bank chiefs sacked recently by the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) over the huge non-performing loans of the banks.

While the remaining four banks executives had submitted themselves to EFCC for interrogation and trial, Akingbola is still on the run.

According to EFCC sources, intelligence reports had unearthed a long time friend of Akingbola, Mr. Kunle Ogunba, as being in possession of some important documents that had to do with debts owed Intercontinental Bank.

Armed with this information, the commission's operatives swung into action and after the initial stiff resistance, Ogunba's residence at Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos was on Wednesday evening raided and the alleged documents recovered.

The items included official debt documents of Intercontinental Bank, suspected to have been taken out of the bank by Akingbola, official documents belonging to Nova Finance and Securities Limited and those of Oba Otudeko's Honeywell Group of Companies.

An EFCC source said: “We got intelligence report that Mr. Erastus Akingbola's friend, Mr. Kunle Ogunba, was in possession of some important documents belonging to Intercontinental Bank Plc and other companies. These documents contained the debt owed this bank and other very important and confidential official documents.

“We went to the place at Dolphin Estate, Ikoyi, where we met a problem we never bargained for. Ogunba came all out against us with his thugs and beat us up. He practically threw us out of his house. It took the reinforcement of our armed men for us to gain access into his house.

“We searched the whole house and were shocked to have seen all these official documents. We were earlier told that Akingbola moved these documents to his friend's house for safe keeping on trust.

Little wonder then he fought with all his might to stop us from gaining access to his house.”

Contacted on the matter, EFCC Spokesman Femi Babafemi confirmed the story, saying Ogunba had since been detained at the commission's office in Lagos.

But Akingbola's spokesman, Mack Ogbamusa, denied that Ogunba was an associate of the ex-Intercontinental Bank boss.

He said he is one of the lawyers of the bank.
Ogbamusa said: He is not Akingbola's associate. This arrest is one of the over 20 EFCC has made in the past two weeks including Akingbola's drivers and domestic staff and some officers of the bank considered close to him.

"EFCC has been pretending to be interrogating them for two weeks without arraigning them. The commission's desperation to turn up dirt has come to naught."

Also yesterday, Justice Sylvester Orji of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, Wuse, Abuja, struck out two motions brought before him by the suspended Director-General of the National Art Gallery (NGA), Chief Joe Musa, against EFCC, the Ministry of Culture and NGA.

Justice Orji's ruling on Musa's application came the same day he remanded another suspect, Toriola Olakunle Abdulahi, arraigned by EFCC on a five-count charge of impersonation, conspiracy and forgery.

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