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Malabu Scandal: UK group declares support for Nigerian anti-corruption activist

Malabu Scandal: UK group declares support for Nigerian anti-corruption activist

Mr Suraju’s civil society organisation, HEDA, and other international anti-graft CSOs including Global Witness have been at the forefront of the demand for justice over the Malabu OPL 245 scandal involving Mr Adoke and many others including oil giants, Shell and Eni.

While the prosecution of the suspects is still ongoing in Nigeria, a court in Milan recently discharged the oil giants and their officials who were named in the scandal which involved the transfer of about $1 billion from the oil giants to private Nigerian accounts for the control of an oil block, OPL 245. Mr Adoke was involved in the negotiation as Nigeria’s attorney general during the Goodluck Jonathan administration but has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Adoke recently sent a petition to the IGP’s office demanding a probe of an email evidence presented against him by prosecutors in the Malabu trial in Milan, Italy.

The former attorney-general also later complained to the police that some people, one of whom he suspected to be Mr Suraju, circulated a fake tape purporting it to be that of an interview he had with an Italian journalist admitting that the Malabu transaction was a scam.

It was based on the petition that the anti-corruption activist was interrogated by the police.

“Instead of investigating the facts, where evidence in the public domain would demonstrate the allegations in the complaint to be false, this has become a story of ongoing police harassment and intimidation,” Global Witness said in its Tuesday statement.

Read the full statement below.

We stand with HEDA & Olanrewaju Suraju!

Shocking attempts to shut down our Nigerian colleagues with false claims

27th April 2021

This is a story of how false allegations about forgery contained in a complaint to the Nigeria police have been used to target a leading Nigerian anti-corruption champion, HEDA Resource Centre and its Chair, in what would appear to be a blatant attempt to silence him and his organisation. The complaint was made by the former Attorney General of Nigeria, Mohammed Bello Adoke.

Instead of investigating the facts, where evidence in the public domain would demonstrate the allegations in the complaint to be false, this has become a story of ongoing police harassment and intimidation. Despite the Herculean efforts of many gifted and committed Nigerians, sadly, it now seems necessary to question just how fragile Nigeria’s anti-corruption achievements might be.

Accordingly:

· We call on all our anti-corruption-fighting friends in Nigeria, and around the world, to stand together in solidarity with our colleagues and friends at HEDA and those fighting the scourge of corruption in Nigeria.

· We demand an end to the harassment of HEDA and its staff.

· We call on the Nigerian Police to investigate, whether or not, Mr Adoke and his representatives have attempted to orchestrate a malicious prosecution of Mr Suraju and HEDA, and if so, to prosecute them for any crimes they may have committed to the fullest extent of the law.

Former AG Adoke comes home, and the Peculiar case of his complaint:

At 3.45 pm on the 19th December 2019, Emirates flight 785 from Dubai carrying former Nigerian Attorney General Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke SAN, together with his Interpol escort, touched down in Abuja. Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) wanted to speak to Mr Adoke in connection with his involvement in brokering the deal ultimately struck by the oil companies Shell and Eni for Nigeria’s OPL 245 oil block. On landing, the EFCC arrested Adoke, and he is now facing trial on multiple charges related to his involvement in the deal. Adoke has stated he is innocent of any crimes, and that he was only acting in the national interest.

One year on, and with his trial underway, Mohammed Adoke appears to be in fighting form. On the 5th February 2021 a complaint purportedly written by another former Nigerian Attorney General Kanu Agabi SAN, in which the author claims to have been instructed by his client Mohammed Bello Adoke SAN, was filed with the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in Abuja. The four-page document is strange from the outset. At time of writing, the  website url on its mast-head leads to a landing page that states: “Site Under Construction…We are almost ready to launch!!!” A call to the Nigerian contact number, 09-8725173, also on the mast-head, solicits the response: “The number you entered is invalid.” Trying again, by removing the zero from the customer number following the country access code – the usual practice when making an international call – this time made the line work, but instead of finding lawyers, the recorded message said we had reached the “Airtel Smartphone Network.” An email on the mast head bounces back, with the message, “Requested mail action aborted, mailbox not found.” On the face of it, the peculiarities of the complaint mast-head raise doubts about this document, and indeed, we wondered if Mr Agabi had in fact written the complaint at all?

We wanted to ask Mr Agabi whether he was aware of the complaint, and if he had authored it? And if so, what efforts he had made to discover the legitimacy of the claims he was making?

We finally reached Mr Agabi via a different phone number at approximately 5pm Nigeria time, on the 23rd April 2021. On asking for confirmation that it was Mr Agabi on the phone, he said, “Yes I can hear you.” He was then asked if he was aware of the complaint issued on the 5th of February, purportedly on behalf of Mr Adoke and from his office? Mr Agabi said, “I am afraid I cannot respond to this, not knowing whom I’m talking to. I’m very sorry about this!”

We repeated the question, re-stating who was contacting him, and asked whether he would at least verify that the complaint did in fact originate from his office. This was met with silence. We were about to ask if there might be a serviceable email address that we could send written questions to, when he abruptly terminated the call. We then attempted reach Mr Agabi on multiple occasions, in order to seek further clarity about the complaint from Mr Agabi prior to publication. Unfortunately, Mr Agabi did not respond.

The complaint makes two main allegations, which we paraphrase in the next paragraph, by citing the key claims in shortened form:

The complaint states, “individuals who initiated the petition […] at the court of Milan […] engaged in acts of forgery of [an] email document dated 21 June 2011 and [a] phoney telephone interview alleged to have occurred between Ms Carlamaria Rumor (RIA [sic] reporter in Italy) and Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke SAN with the unlawful aim of […] subverting the wheel of justice at the [then] ongoing criminal trial of the parties connected with the OPL 245 settlement agreement in Italy and Nigeria.” It continues, “We have reason to believe that the persons or organizations behind these forgeries are the ones that authored the petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), demanding investigation of the OPL 245 Resolution Agreement.”

The complaint does not specifically name anyone. But given that Global Witness and our partners, Re:Common in Italy, and The Corner House in the UK, are the organisations that filed the petitions related to the OPL 245 case in Milan, and that our organisations together with our colleagues HEDA Resource Centre in Nigeria filed a petition to the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), there can be no doubt that the complaint is referring to our organisations. If that were to be the case, each of our organisations utterly refute these claims which are wholly untrue. Given the status of our organisations as internationally renowned anti-corruption champions, these published claims are also highly defamatory.

In Reality…

1. The claim of document forgery:

· The document referred to in the complaint only came into the public domain in late 2020, as part of the disclosures provided to a London court by JP Morgan. The bank is being sued in London by the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) (Case number: CL-2017-000730), for its involvement in the OPL 245 deal. The FRN subsequently included the document as part of its “Re-Re-Amended Particulars of Claim.”

· In its claim, the FRN stated that Adoke had sent an email from a Yahoo.com email account, [email protected], to Bayo Osolake, an employee of JP Morgan. Copies of the “OPL 245 Resolution Agreements” were attached to the email. At the date the email was sent – 21st June 2011 – the Resolution Agreements, were highly confidential and would not come into the public domain for approximately another 5 months. Thus, whoever sent the email in question must have had privileged access to these documents which were confidential to those involved in the deal, not to mention access to the Yahoo email account used to send the email. They must also have known which, of the tens of thousands of JP Morgan employees they needed to send the email to.

· In court documents, the FRN stated that the email address – [email protected] – was associated with “the A Group of Nigerian companies controlled by Mr Abubakar Aliyu.” One of the A Group companies – A Group Construction – received some of the OPL 245 funds, after they had been transferred by JP Morgan to Malabu Oil & Gas, the company that until the deal was concluded, owned the OPL 245 oil block.

· When we became aware of the existence of the email, we believed it to be of relevance to the on-going prosecution of the OPL 245 trial in Milan. Thus, acting in the public interest, we together with our colleagues at Re:Common and The Corner House, formally notified the Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office about the FRN’s claims in the High Court in London.

· The Milan Public Prosecutor then issued a European Investigation Order (Ref: 54772/13) to the UK, asking for the email from JP Morgan. The UK authorities obtained the email, sending it on to Milan through the formal MLA channels, where it was accepted as evidence by the Milan Tribunal.

2. The Rai Interview:

The RAI interview, purporting to be with a Mr Adoke was conducted by a RAI journalist. Thus, the question of who RAI in fact interviewed is a matter for RAI to clarify. That said, we note that the interview in question was accepted as evidence in a separate trial in Milan, and that it was indeed cited in the judgement as having been taken into account.

When a Complaint becomes a Weapon of Harassment, a threat to Civic space, and to Nigeria’s Anti-corruption fight:

On 1st March 2021, our colleagues at Re:Common wrote to the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in Abuja, pointing out the errors in the claims made in the complaint, purportedly filed on behalf of Mohamed Adoke. The letter suggested that verification of the facts could be obtained through a formal request to the Serious Fraud Office in London, and the Milan Public Prosecutor’s Office, because they were the ones who had handled the document.

In late March our colleague Olanrewaju Suraju, Chairman of HEDA Resource Centre, was invited to interview on 1st April at the IGP office in Abuja. HEDA is Lagos-based, and though we understand that the IGP should have held the interview at the IGP’s offices in Lagos, instead this decision meant a costly and unnecessary trip. When Mr Suraju arrived at the IGP office in Abuja with his Lagos-based lawyer, he was told the officer conducting the investigation was out of town – and that he should come back again.

Moving goal-posts: If you can’t get them for one thing, try something else!

The next appointment fell on the 14th April. As before, this required a costly trip to Abuja with Mr Suraju having to bring his lawyer with him, and this is when the circus began.

Sources inform us that Adoke himself had visited the offices of the IGP on numerous occasions to discuss his complaint, always meeting with senior officers. But on the day of Mr Suraju’s appointment, Mr Adoke was a no-show. A man who claimed to be a “friend” of Adoke, and that he was a lawyer – though not a lawyer instructed by Adoke – turned up in his stead.

Mr Suraju was subjected to interrogation from 10 in the morning to beyond 9pm that night. The police investigators pushed one allegation after another, working their way through Adoke’s complaint. Despite the fact that more than a month had passed since Re:Common had provided key information rebutting Adoke’s claims to the very same headquarters building of the IGP, it was made clear to Mr Suraju during his interrogation that none of this had filtered down to those conducting the investigation. Indeed, when a copy of Re:Common’s letter was provided, the response was that this was precisely the kind of information that the police had wanted to obtain through an Interpol enquiry.

As each new claim was put forward, Mr Suraju batted it away by providing evidence already in the public domain – for example, he produced the entire MLA correspondence, now in the public domain, that explains the origin of the email claimed as forged by Adoke, and its subsequent provision to the Milan Tribunal. But each time, the goalposts simply moved. At one point, the claims reached ridiculous proportions when the police claimed that the voice on the RAI interview was not Mr Adoke, but that of Mr Suraju instead, only for that absurdity to become crystal clear when they actually listened to the tape.

But once finished, with the claims in Adoke’s complaint now exhausted (and sources suggest, at the behest of Mr Adoke’s “friend” elsewhere in the building), the interrogation really began to scrape the barrel, by shifting without justification its focus onto Mr Suraju’s organisation. The day finally ended in a negotiation over the basis for bail, the demand being for discussions to continue the following day.

The next day, what can only be described as harassment began all over again. Mr Suraju was interrogated for more than another five hours, though by now, with Adoke’s original forgery allegations seemingly forgotten, the focus had become even more sinister, with a demand to obtain access to HEDA’s bank details and other company documents. Finally, the police insisted that the Directors of HEDA should themselves come to Abuja for interrogation, potentially during the final week of April. Given the shredding of Adoke’s claims, it is impossible to see any justifiable basis for this. HEDA insisted that any such demands should be accompanied by a credible justification and be submitted in writing to the organisation. We note that despite this matter being raised again in a telephone call with HEDA, just prior to our publishing, that no letter has been forthcoming from the police, let alone a credible basis set out for these demands.

Eni goes on the attack:

The 14th of April also saw publication of claims that  Eni was threatening to sue HEDA. Eni would appear to be claiming, following the conclusion of the Milan tribunal to acquit all defendants in the OPL 245 proceedings that ended on March 17th 2021, that this should be the final word on the matter – everywhere in the world. In reality, however, all the defendants in Nigeria, apart from Dan Etete, are different than those who were on trial in Milan. They are on trial under Nigerian law – which under the circumstances, we feel the need to point out is different from Italian law. These are not new trials, as Eni seems to be trying to suggest in its public statements. Indeed, they commenced prior to the conclusion of the trial in Milan. In summary, as Eni well knows, they involve different characters, who face different charges, under different laws. Italy does not possess sovereign control over Nigeria, and thus Nigeria continuing to exercise its sovereign rights cannot be seen as a slight to Italy’s sovereignty. As such, and without the possibility of double jeopardy, it is self-evident that the cases in Nigeria should be permitted to continue to their natural conclusion.

This has to Stop! We stand in solidarity with HEDA

As a leading Global anti-corruption organisation, Global Witness must call out investigations when they lose their legitimacy. To be clear, we unreservedly support Mr Adoke’s right to make a complaint about matters where he considers that he has been wronged. We would also support the Police in the conduct of a fair and legitimate investigation. But when the facts alleged in a complaint do not stand up – even to the most basic form of analysis, as Mr Adoke himself, not to mention the police could have determined from material in the public domain – and yet when they continue to be used as the pretext to harass, we must call this out for the corrupt exercise, in the absence of a better explanation, that it would appear to be. The harassment of Mr Suraju and the continued targeting of HEDA, without any credible basis, must end now. We will make it our business to inform all in the global community who care about and support Nigeria’s fight against corruption about these events, and we will continue to monitor and report on them. We stand together with our colleagues at RE:Common and The Corner House in Solidarity with HEDA.

Editor’s Notes:

· Mohammed Bello Adoke SAN, was Attorney General of Nigeria during the Administration of President Goodluck Jonathan. He left office in 2015 with the end of Jonathan Administration.

· We accessed the web site http://agabilaw.com most recently on 27th April. It is strange, for such a high-profile legal firm, that even though nearly three months has passed since the filing of the Adoke complaint, the website address provided remains a site under construction – not to mention the lack of a functioning email and telephone number.

· The Adoke complaint mentions “the court of Milan.” Here it is referring to the trial in Milan of Shell, Eni and others for International Corruption, associated with the deal for OPL 245 which ended on the 17th March 2021, with all acquitted.

· In the discussion about the RAI interview, reference is made to a separate trial in Milan – see expedited trial of Obi and Di Nardo, case number 54772/13 R.G.N.R. N. 17804/17 R.G.GIP. N. 2232/18 at the Milan Tribunal.

SOURCE

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