France slams $10.5m fine on Etete
A French appeal court Wednesday in Paris slammed a $10.5 million (about 1.9billion naira) fine on Nigeria's former petroleum minister, Dan Etete, having found him guilty of money laundering.
The judgement was delivered on Wednesday after Mr. Etete's appeal against the initial judgement of a lower court.
A Paris criminal court had on November 7, 2007 sentenced him to three years in prison with a fine of $300,000. Mr. Etete was also asked to pay $150,000 to the Nigerian government as compensation for money laundering.
Between 1999 and 2000, according to the French court, Mr. Etete exhibited a pompous and lavish taste underwritten by a 15 million euro wallet which he obtained fraudulently to purchase a string ofposh property in France. The property includes a luxury villa in the Paris suburb of Neuilly, a chateau in northwest France and a Paris apartment.
The money is reportedly part of the bribes obtained from the Kellogg, Brown, and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary. The subsidiary itself has been convicted in the United States of giving bribes to Nigerian officials between 1995 and 2003.
During the initial trial of Mr. Etete in 2007, Michael Aondoakaa, the Attorney General of the Federation had, in a letter written to the prosecutors, refused to cooperate with them. Mr. Etete is presently in Nigeria where he is hiding from the law.
Jiti Ogunye, a lawyer and human rights activist said that although a person ought not to be tried in absentia, he loses that right when he is given the opportunity but refuses to attend his trial.
"If he was given the opportunity to appear and he chose to run away, then it is right for him to be convicted when found guilty," he said.
Mr. Ogunye also said that the Nigerian Government has the responsibility to extradite Mr. Etete should France express the desire to have him, although he said that the Attorney General of the Federation has shown less inclination to promote mutual legal assistance to foreign institutions on account of his responses thus far to anti-corruption issues.
"Even if there is such a treaty, giving his previous handling of other corruption matters, is the Attorney General ready to extradite such person? It is not in the character of this government to do so," he said.
Aduche Wokocha, a Port Harcourt based lawyer agreed with Mr. Ogunye
Saying "Money laundering is a crime; it is not a civil matter. The government, which has been chanting a principle of anti-corruption and rule of law, has a responsibility to extradite him."
Mr. Wokocha, who also teaches law at the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, said that if France seeks the extradition of Mr. Etete, it would be honourable for Nigeria to oblige her because, in his view, "Nigeria would also expect other countries to extradite their citizens who are so convicted in Nigeria."
Mr. Etete was Nigeria's petroleum minister from 1995 to 1998 during the regime of late General Sani Abacha.