The Federal Government has given an insight into how it gets the assistance of the United Kingdom to seize properties and other assets linked to funds allegedly stolen from the Nigerian treasury.
It said under the existing mutual legal assistance agreement and treaties, the UK also “helps us to prosecute suspects who commit crimes against Nigeria.”
Nigeria also offered such legal assistance to the UK when faced with such request, the Federal Government stated in a court paper filed before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja.
Properties linked to the immediate-past Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke in the UK have been seized by the foreign country’s court under the existing mutual assistance laws.
Diezani has, since 2015, been under criminal investigation in the UK for alleged offences including money laundering which she was accused of committing while in office as a Nigerian minister.
The Federal Government detailed how the mutual legal agreement laws worked in its response to an application raised by an alleged Diezani’s ally, Benedict Peters, challenging the seizure of some foreign and Nigerian-based properties linked to the ex-minister.
The orders for interim forfeiture of the properties on the account of the ongoing investigation of Diezani were made on April 13 and 29, 2016 by the Federal High Court in Abuja and on October 19, 2017, by the Crown Court in Southwark, UK.
The interim forfeiture orders prohibited the disposal of the assets in Nigeria and in the UK pending the conclusion of ongoing investigations into allegations against the ex-minister, on whose behalf investigators believed Peters and his companies acted.
But Peters and three of his companies – Collinwood Limited, Rosewood Investment Limited and Walworth Properties – had, on December 29, 2017, filed the suit marked, FCT/HC/CV/0536/17, seeking to set aside the orders of interim forfeiture in respect to some of the seized properties.
The plaintiffs, in urging the FCT High Court to set aside the interim orders of forfeiture, claimed that some of the properties seized by the Nigerian and UK courts belonged to them and not Diezani.
Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who filed the suit for the plaintiffs, listed the AGF, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Crown Prosecution Service, UK; Helen Hughes (an official of CPS); The National Crime Agency, UK; Stacey Boniface and John Bavister (both investigators for NCA) as 3rd to the 7th defendants.
At the commencement of the hearing in the case, lawyers from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, announced appearances for the AGF and the UK agencies and agents, a development the plaintiffs opposed.
They argued that the Nigerian government’s lawyers could not represent the UK officials and agencies sued in Nigeria.
But the AGF office said in response that only the UK government could challenge its appearance for the foreign government and its agencies.
The AGF office added that its appearance for the UK in the case was covered under the ‘Treaty Series No.18(1994)’ and the ‘Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria concerning the Investigation and Prosecution of Crime and the Confiscation of the Proceeds of Crime.’
It also cited the ‘Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters within the Commonwealth (Enact and Enforcement) Act’ to back its appearance for the UK government.
The AGF’s lawyer, Mr. Tijani Gazali, argued, “Thus the Federal Government of Nigeria has the power under this Act to consult the government of the United Kingdom for legal assistance as regards identifying and locating criminal offenders, examination of witnesses, search and seizure of assets, etc in relation to identifying and obtaining proceeds of crime.
“We further submit that it was within the duties of the United Kingdom authorities and their agents, including but not limited to the 3rd to the 7th defendants to act as requested and provide necessary evidence, witnesses and even prosecute the matter in as much as they have the authority to do so from the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
Gazali added that failure of the AGF office “to protect the interest of the United Kingdom and its agents will be disregarding the mutual agreement laws set in place to promote cooperation to fight crime in both countries.”
Justice Olukayode Adeniyi of the FCT High Court in Apo, Abuja, had in a ruling on June 11, 2018, upheld the argument of the AGF office and dismissed the plaintiffs’ objection to the appearance of the office’s appearance for the UK agencies and agents.
Justice Adeniyi fixed June 22 for further hearing.