IBORI $15M ‘BRIBE’ SAGA: COURT ADJOURNS TO OCT 29

A federal High Court sitting in Lagos, has adjourned till October 29, 2012, the case of ownership of the $15million alleged bribe offered by former Delta State governor Chief James Ibori to Nuhu Ribadu, former chairman of EFCC to purportedly compromise the corruption investigation instituted by the EFCCagainst the former Delta state governor.

The case earlier slated for September 17, 2012, by Justice Gabriel Kolawole was adjourned to October 29, as a result of the on-going annual judges’ conference holding in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital.

The annual conference traditionally kicks off the beginning of a new Legal Year and the trial Judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, was said to be attending the event.

The registrar in Justice Kolawole’s court has, suo motu, adjourned further hearing in the matter till October 29, 2012.

The story of the case so far reads like this: A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja and headed by Justice Gabriel Kolawole, had on July 24, 2012, ordered the EFCC to publish an interim order of forfeiture in a national newspaper (Thisday Newspaper), to allow anyone interested in the money to appear before the court, within 14 days, to state reasons for their claim and why a final order of forfeiture should not be granted in favour of the Federal Government.

This order was sequel to an application brought before the Court by EFCC counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, who had filed an ex-parte application on behalf of the EFCC, asking for forfeiture of the said $15million ‘bribe’ to the Federal Government if no one came up within 14days to lay claim to it.

The EFCC,  in a 14 paragraph affidavit deposed by one Bello Yahaya who was one of the investigators assigned by the EFCC to investigate the criminal case against Ibori, had listed the Federal Government, the Attorney General of the Federation and the EFCC as the plaintiffs, and the Central Bank of Nigeria as sole defendant and the application for forfeiture was hinged on the following grounds:

“While the investigation was going on, on April 25, 2007, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, the then Chairman of the EFCC called the investigation team headed by Mr Ibrahim Lamorde, the then Director of Operations, to pick up cash in the sum of USD 15, 000, 000 given to him and the Commission through an undisclosed agent of the said James Ibori.

“That upon picking up the said USD 15, 000, 000, we deposited same on April 26, 2007 with the CBN which was duly acknowledged and signed for by one M.M El-Yallud, a staff working in strong room 1 of the CBN.

“That from the said April 26, 2007, the money remained in the custody of the CBN till date. The issue was raised by me in my affidavit sworn to on January 9, 2008 in opposition to James Ibori’s bail application when he was eventually charged to court for Money Laundering Offences.

“James Ibori denied through his reply to counter affidavit dated January 10, 2008, of giving the sum of USD 15, 000, 000, to EFCC or its officials. That ever since April, 2007, no one has claimed ownership of the said sum and it has since remained unclaimed money in the strong room of the CBN.

“That the said sum if left untouched and unspent in the state it was kept in the strong room since April, 2007, may eventually be destroyed, defaced, mutilated and become useless.

“That it is in the interest of justice to, in the interim, make an order of forfeiture to the Federal Government of Nigeria and allow publication to be made in the National Newspaper to alert any interested member of the public to come out within 14 days to show their interest, failure to which this honourable court will make an order of final forfeiture in favour of the Federal Government of Nigeria”.

“That the EFCC is ready to abide by the order that this honourable court will eventually make. It is in the interest of justice to grant this application,” he added.

The forfeiture was to be made permanent if no one came up to claim the money within 14 days of the publication of an advertorial to the effect. Justice Kolawole then granted the prayers of the application and ruled that the publication be made and it was summarily done in Thisday Newspaper.

And as to be expected, an application was immediately filed by one Timipa Okponipere, a Lawyer, who claimed that he had instituted the application on behalf of the government and people of Delta State and prayed that the money belonged to Delta State and should be retuned to the state.

Said he, “In filing this application, I am acting in the public interest. I believe as a lawyer, no section of Nigeria should be denied their fundamental rights,” read an affidavit he personally deposed to.

Barr. Okponipere also asked the court to declare that the $15m alleged bribe money, which has been in custody of the third respondent (Central Bank of Nigeria) since April 2007, is property belonging to government of Delta State and its people.

He urged the court to hold that any application or order granting the money to any other entity other than the government and people of Delta State would be illegal and of no effect and asked the court to order the Attorney-General of the federation, the EFCC and the CBN to return the money to the government and people of Delta State.

In addition, he asked the Court to make, “a declaration that the $15m alleged bribe money became property of government and people of Delta State when James Ibori was convicted and sentenced to prison in the United Kingdom” and “a declaration that James Ibori’s conviction quashed all previous denials or counter affidavits he may have made to any court or investigating authority including the EFCC regarding the question of whether or not he was the actual giver of the alleged bribe money.”

The Delta state government , according to Okponipere, is contending that the bribe could not be taken over by the federal government since the jailed ex-governor robbed the state and not the federal government. It also invited the court to issue an order returning the money to Delta State because if the court awarded the money to the federal government, it would be paid into the federation account and would be shared by the 36 states of the federation when in fact, the money belonged to Delta alone.

Delta State, through Okponipere, also argued that the denial by Ibori, in a counter affidavit filed before a Federal High Court in Kaduna way back 2009 while facing money-laundering trial could no longer be relied upon, since Ibori had already been convicted and jailed for the offence of stealing Delta State money, including the US$15m that was allegedly offered as bribe to Ribadu to stop his trial.

His application virtually laid the blue print for everything that was replicated in the application filed by Mr. Charles Ajuyah, SAN, the Attorney General of Delta State, who, during a press briefing with newsmen in government House, Asaba, Delta State on August 14, 2012, informed that the State government had followed suit and pitched in on the on-going saga over the alleged $15million ‘bribe’.

According to Ajuyah, the State had at last gone before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to challenge moves by the Federal Government to claim the $15 million via an application, arguing that the alleged money legitimately belongs to Delta State and had also strongly urged the high court to issue an order, remitting the fund to the Delta State treasury.

Delta State, in its application, dated August 10, 2012, maintained that the Federal Government was bereft of the right of ownership of the money, insisting that $15 million was offered when Ibori held sway as Governor of the State.

In a 35-paragraphed affidavit attached in support of the application, Delta State maintained that the release of the money would facilitate current developmental projects in the state.

In its affidavit deposed to by one Nikiru Bridget Emakpor, a legal officer in the Delta State Ministry of Justice, the state noted that Ibori was a governor of the state between May 29, 1999 and May 29, 2007, the period the money in dispute was allegedly offered to officers of the EFCC with a view to compromising investigation into his alleged involvement in acts of corruption.

Consequently, it argued that the $15 million was the exclusive property of the state and it is therefore entitled to collect same, being the bona fide owner.

According to the affidavit, “any money, asset or property recovered from Ibori rightly belonged to Delta State and same should be returned to it as it has always maintained its entitlement to any asset recovered from Ibori.”

The deponent further averred that “any denial by Ibori in respect of the money cannot affect entitlement of the state to the amount.”

The state said the reason it did not formally apply for payment of the money was in view of pending appeals before both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, saying it did not want to prejudice the outcome of the appeal cases.

Moreover, the state claimed that all monies, assets and property recovered from Mr. Joshua Dariye, former Governor of Plateau State were returned to Plateau State, just like those recovered from Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa were returned to Bayelsa State.

It argued that there should be no legal basis to treat the case of Delta State any different from others, saying it is in the interest of justice that the money should be released to Delta State.

The presiding Judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole then adjourned argument on who should be rightful owner of the controversial money till September 17, 2012.

However, just when it appeared that only Delta State, represented by two contending legal fronts and the Federal Government represented by the EFCC were the only claimants, a new twist was put in the tale when a certain Chibuike Achigbu, an Engineer said to be an executive with Chimons Gas Ltd and member of the Peoples Democratic Party, suddenly appeared as another claimant to the $15m.

In an affidavit filed on his behalf and before Justice Gladys Olotu, the presiding Judge of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, by three Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs); Adeniyi Akintola, Okey Amaechi and Abiodun Owonikoko, leading seven other senior lawyers, all of whom were hired by the applicant to argue the case; the plaintiff alleged that as an oil magnate and member of the ruling PDP, he had donated $15 million towards the presidential election of late President Umaru Yar’Adua and then Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan in 2007.

According to Chibuike Achigbu, the new claimant, he had sought advice from legal experts on whether he could raise money in support of the PDP and its candidates throughout the country, with a view to ensuring a clean sweep for the party.

He further claimed that though he set a target of N3bn for himself and friends, he was however able to raise more than N2bn by April 2007. In order to expend the fund legitimately, Achigbu said he then approached Andy Uba, now a Senator, and agencies of government to investigate and ensure that he raised the funds legitimately and in good faith.

Uba, he alleged, had advised him to deliver the fund to him (Uba) for onward transmission to EFCC being the agency of the Federal Government empowered to certify such. In an affidavit he filed in support of the application, he said: “Andy Uba was a Special Assistant in the Presidency, who offered to take custody of the fund with a view to inviting EFCC to carry out the audit and certification before being donated to the PDP.”

In the affidavit, he stated that upon delivering the money, he heard rumours about an attempt by Ibori to bribe the chairman of the EFCC, insisting that he had nothing to do with Ibori.

His words: “That it was not until several months after Uba’s election was voided at the Supreme Court that he succeeded in making contact with him.

“That Uba, in a telephone conversation he had with him sometimes in the early part of the year 2008, confirmed that, as agreed, he did invite the EFCC to take custody of the purported unclaimed fund and revert on their investigations about its suitability for the purpose that the fund was intended.”

Achigbu said that he, however, did not believe Uba and suspected that he (Uba) had diverted the money to fund his own electioneering expenses when he was campaigning for governor of Anambra State.

Said he; “That I took the view that God had sufficiently avenged Uba’s betrayal when his election funded with the money was voided by the Supreme Court less than a month into his tenure in June 2007.”

However, on the night of August 27, 2012, he received a call from Uba informing him about the latest development concerning the $15 million and that the money in question was the same money he collected from him.

That Uba specifically confirmed to him that it was Ibrahim Lamorde, the then Director of Operations of the EFCC, that was superficially instructed to receive the money from him (Uba) on April 25th, 2007.

The application by Engineer Achigbu was also heard alongside a fresh suit filed by the Attorney-General of Delta State, Mr. Charles Ajuyah (SAN), who not only urged the court to award the $15 million bribe money to Delta state but also sought a short adjournment to enable him serve fresh hearing notice on the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Ajuyah equally prayed the Court to dismiss the earlier application filed by Timipa Okponipere, on the grounds that he, Ajuyah, as the Chief Legal Officer of Delta State was the rightful person vested with the authority to file any application on behalf of the state.

Justice Gladys Olotu, the trial Judge heard them all and then adjourned till September 17, 2012. According to her, the adjournment became imperative consequent upon a petition written to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, by the anti-graft agency, EFCC and having been served with a copy of the letter by the CJ, the honourable thing for her to do in the circumstance, was to adjourn the matter till September 17, 2012.

Justice Gladys Olotu also granted the prayer of the Delta State Attorney General and cancelled the name of Mr. Timipa Okponipere from the list of those contesting to determine the destination of the money, after Delta State’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice Charles Ajuya (SAN) denied authorising Okponipere to file any case on behalf of the state. Mr. Timipa Okponipere was thus dismissed from the case.

It will be recalled that Justice Gabriel Kolawole had also adjourned a similar suit with the same subject matter to the same September 17, 2012 to enable interested parties to come forward with claims of ownership of the controversial $15 million within fourteen days of the order and granted an order of temporary forfeiture of the bribe sum to the Federal Government. It was therefore in reaction to this order that the Delta State government had filed a fresh application before Justice Olotu, thus prompting the EFCC to write to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.

In his explanation on why the EFCC had written to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta after the preliminary proceedings, Counsel to EFCC, Chief Rotimi Jacobs, said the letter to the Justice Auta was necessitated by the fresh suit filed by the Delta State government, which he said the commission was not comfortable with, especially when placed against the backdrop of Justice Kolawole’s unambiguous ruling that nothing should be done until September 17, 2012, when parties were expected to appear before the Court to express their interests.

His words: “You will recall that on the 24th of July, 2012, the Honourable Justice Kolawole heard the application and ordered us to advertise the order granting interim forfeiture and then adjourned the case that it should not be heard until 17th of September, 2012, so as to enable parties that have interest to come out and file their process.

“The return date effectively is 17th Sept; only God knows what happened, we did not know what happened; there is no application that the time be abridged or that the time be moved backward. So, all what we heard is hearing notice, that is why the EFCC complained about who changed the date; we want a transparent thing, we want everybody with claims to come out”, Jacobs said.

Recall of course that Mr. Jacobs had earlier dismissed the intention of the Delta State government to file an application of claim to the $15m as ‘laughable’. He said: “I just read the claim of Delta State from the newspapers… I am yet to be served with their affidavit deposing to this. But it is really interesting and amusing. However, it is an issue of ownership. The burden is on Delta State to prove ownership of money which is not in its custody”.

According to Jacobs: “I am waiting to see how Delta justifies the withdrawal of over N2 billion from its coffers without any documentation. The burden is on them.”

And just when it appeared that things could not get any more exciting than it already was, in came maverick lawyer and scourge of everything corruption; Mr. Festus Keyamo, spitting fire.

In his submission, Keyamo urged the Federal Government to immediately arrest the duo of Andy Uba and Chibuike Achigbu and interrogate them with a view to tracing the origin of the $15million allegedly offered to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, by agents of convicted former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori, in 2007.

If however the origin of the money could not be ascertained, then both Uba and Achigbu should be charged with money laundering and/ or conspiracy and bribery.

Mr. Keyamo equally queried why the money, which he described as the proceed of a crime already and identified as an exhibit to be tendered in court, was kept with the CBN, asking if the EFCC no longer had facilities to keep exhibits recovered from suspected criminals.

According to him, the criminal case against Ibori is still pending in court despite his conviction by a London court, and stressed that “if the appeal of the EFCC against Ibori succeeds at the Supreme Court, Ibori can still be tried in Nigeria for laundering $15million and giving it as bribe, since he was never tried for those offences in United Kingdom.”

He said: “For instance, if a person kills Mr. Peter and Paul and he is tried only for killing Mr. Peter and convicted, he can later be tried for killing Mr. Paul also. It will not amount to double jeopardy.

“It is with this state of affairs that the Federal Government, through the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, sparked off controversy recently when it applied to court that the said money be forfeited to the Federal Government. The Delta State Government has also come forward to lay claim to the money.

And a certain businessman named Chibuike Achigbu and Dr. Andy Uba, the former Special Assistant on Special Duties and Domestic Affairs to President Olusegun Obasanjo, have also claimed in court that they were the proxies through whom the money was given to Ribadu, but that it was for a different purpose other than bribe.

Keyamo then asked the following questions: 1.“Why were the duo of Andy Uba and Chibuike Achigbu not arrested at that time (since they enjoyed no immunity like chief James Ibori) and charged to court for conspiracy and bribery? Why have they not been arrested up till this minute and charged to court? Or is the federal government telling Nigerians that Nuhu Ribadu was lying about the bribe money?

2. “What kind of country will want to recover exhibits that are the proceeds of crime, without first arresting the culprits, investigating them, tracing the origin of the money, charging them to court and securing conviction?

“It is in the light of the above that the attempt by the Federal Government to recover the alleged $15miilion bribe money deposited in the CBN surreptitiously through the court is nothing but a shameful and disgraceful attempt at covering up a crime, abdicating its statutory responsibility to prosecute criminals, and reneging on its pledge to the people to fight the cancer of corruption to its roots, no matter whose ox is gored”.

Speaking further, Keyamo warned that, “The Federal Government should immediately withdraw that case from court and the Delta State Government and all other parties should back off from this national embarrassment we are witnessing. Consequently, Keyamo told the Federal Government to do the following:(1) Await the decision of the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court over the appeal against the discharge of Ibori on the 170-Count charge. If the Supreme Court rules that Ibori was wrongly discharged and orders a retrial (just as happened recently in the case of Kenny Martins when a retrial was ordered by the Court of Appeal over stealing of police funds), the $15 million is one of the exhibits that will be tendered when the case is retried.

“(2) Await the verdict of that retrial, (if it is ordered) which retrial will determine once and for all whether the money was actually given by Ibori or not as bribe to Ribadu.

“(3) Arrest immediately the duo of Andy Uba and Chibuike Achigbu, interrogate them, trace the origin of the $15million, and if it has no origin, charge them with money laundering and/or conspiracy and bribery.”

He then maintained that in the alternative, the Federal Government should: “(4) Arrest Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, interrogate him and charge him to court, if necessary, for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and perjury as regards the proceedings in Asaba when he swore on oath or procured another to swear that he was given a bribe.

“This is because, it is either Ribadu on the one hand is lying that he was offered $15million as bribe or Andy Uba, Ibori and Chibuike Achigbu on the other hand are all lying that it was not bribe. Both versions cannot be correct and any version that is false amounts to a crime under our laws.

Keyamo then noted that; “Either way, we cannot fold our arms and watch helplessly and hopelessly as some persons with dubious intentions regarding that money which is public funds play on our collective intelligence in this matter.

He described the whole issue thus; “This is a very serious matter that is turning into a comedy of sort. It is the embarrassing failure of the Federal Government to follow due process and the rule of law to the letter regarding that bribe money that is the foundation for the present absurdity we are witnessing where those who should actually be in jail and institutions that failed in performing their duties are fighting themselves publicly to claim money that is purely the proceeds of crime.

Sounding a note of warning to all parties in the matter, the maverick lawyer said; “It is important to mention that apart for my well-known commitment to the campaign against corruption in public office, my particular motivation in this case is the fact that the funds in question have some kind of connection to my State (Delta State) which has suffered from series of maladministration.

He defined his identity and stake in the matter thus; “I am an Urhobo man, born, bred and raised in Ughelli, while I hail from Effurun in Uvwie Local Government Area of Delta State, near Warri. I am pained to see that whilst social amenities and infrastructure are lacking in most parts of Delta State, a hefty sum of $15million WHICH MAY HAVE come from the State was allegedly given in one fell swoop as bribe to cover up crimes committed, perhaps, against the people of Delta State.

“Consequently, if in the next few days, the Federal Government fails, refuses and/or neglects to take appropriate steps to terminate the case in court and properly investigate all the suspects in this matter, whether the principals or proxies who participated in laundering and offering this money as bribe or otherwise, I will be left with no other option than to proceed to court to bring the suspects to justice,” he warned finally.

However, in a new twist to the matter and perhaps in reaction to Mr. Festus Keyamo’s stern position and warning, it was suddenly reported that both Senator Andy Uba and Chibuike Achigbu, had abandoned their claim to the $15 million

According reports attributed to some lawyers, EFCC officials and two PDP chieftains, it was learnt Andy Uba and Engineer Achigbu had instructed their lawyers to discontinue with the case and that Mr. Achigbu’s lawyers have already gone to court to officially withdraw the claim to the $15m.

Senator Andy Uba (PDP, Anambra East) in distancing himself from the ownership of the controversial $15m bribe, said he merely allowed Ibori to use his house to deliver the money to Ribadu.

Uba, in a statement credited to his aide, Mr. Chike Okeke, said that he gave the money to the then EFCC Director of Operations, Ibrahim Lamorde.

Uba said, “When I was in the Presidency, my house in the Villa was a convenient place for many top people in Nigeria to come. Probably, Chief Ibori didn’t want to go to the EFCC office to hand over the money and so decided to use my house. All I know about this matter is that Chief James Ibori brought some money to the then EFCC chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu”.

The Uba statement further went on to say that; “The details of the transaction were undisclosed to me at the time. The money was handed to Mallam Nuhu Ribadu who invited his then Director of Operations, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, to fetch it. I was never a party to the transaction between Ibori and Ribadu. That my house was used as the venue for the transaction is not in question as an affidavit to that effect has been sworn to by the current EFCC chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, which is probably the point of confusion”.

Senator Uba affirmed his non involvement in the matter thus: “I hereby state unequivocally that I have no involvement in this matter beyond that stated above. So, I’m not involved and will not be involved in this matter. Nobody should drag me into it please,” he said.

The decision of Senator Uba and Engineer Achigbu to withdraw their claim for the money may also have been informed by the supposed hardline position of the PDP on the matter as some very credible sources within the Wadata Plaza Headquarters have hinted that the party was not aware of the said funds allegedly collected for its candidates by Mr. Achigbu and that the party was likely to support the arrest and prosecution of Senator Uba if it is established that he was in any way involved in the plan to claim the funds that were seized from Chief Ibori as part of an anti-corruption investigation; an action which the sources described as very unbecoming of a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

And in a further twist to the tale Barr Keyamo has now made good his threat and gone ahead to obtain a Court Order to commence investigation on Senator Andy Uba and Chibuike Achigbu. The Court further ordered the Police to submit the report of its findings to it on September 26, 2012.

And to further add spice to the story, Engineer Chibuike Achigbu was recently arrested by the EFCC following the court order granted to lawyer Keyamo, but was temporarily relesed following his fulfillment of EFCC’s bail conditions.

Spokesman of the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed that Achigbu was released immediately he was able to meet all the requirements for his “bail,” but also disclosed that the agency was yet to consider arresting Senator Andy Ubah.

And to raise the expectation levels even higher, the case has now been shifted to Monday October 29, 2012 to add another tantalising twist in the tale.

As we await further developments in this alleged bribery saga, it appears from the look of things, that we have certainly not heard the last of Ibori yet. The ‘godfather’, it seems, never sleeps.

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