…Reps grill Emefiele next week over recoveries, withdrawals
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has said it is awaiting the presidential order to auction the jewellery seized from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, valued at about N14.46bn and houses estimated at $80m.
The Chairman of the EFCC, AbdulRasheed Bawa, made this known in Abuja on Friday when he appeared before the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on Assessment and Status of All Recovered Loots Movable and Immovable Assets from 2002 to 2020 by Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria for Effective Efficient Management and Utilisation.
Members of the committee and the audience at the venue were shocked by the revelation.
Bawa, however, stated that the “estimated value” of the forfeited jewellery was not determined by the EFCC, adding that the houses finally forfeited by the ex-minister had been valued at about $80m.
The committee consequently resolved to inspect the seized items to assess their current state, especially the houses, which the lawmakers worried might have lost value due to their state of abandonment.
The committee had earlier grilled Bawa behind closed doors over withdrawals from the recovered assets account for security purposes.
Reps member Adejoro Adeogun also asked about the Diezani jewellery, saying, “Are they still in your custody or have they been turned into cash?”
Bawa said, “No, they are in our custody. They have not been auctioned yet. They have been finally forfeited, just like the houses, vehicles, etc., and the commission is looking forward to the presidential committee auctioning all those items and depositing the money appropriately. We got it (final forfeiture order) sometime in 2019.”
The committee chairman, however, decried that the seized assets were being left to depreciate and become a loss to the country. He asked, “Given the financial situation of Nigeria, shouldn’t we auction these things fast and put the money to use?”
The EFCC chairman noted that a lot of processes were involved and due to the “certain things that happened.” He said now that the Federal Government had set up a committee on assets recovery, seized property would be auctioned soon.
Adeogun asked, “Members are keen to know the total value of the jewellery. It is on the paper (presented to Bawa); can you please read it out? Is that the value of one person’s jewellery?”
Bawa said, “It is the estimated value that we have. The estimated value in naira was given at N14,460,000,000.”
Adeogun asked, “Is it for houses, cars or jewellery?”
Several members of the panel and the audience expressed shock when the EFCC boss said the amount was only for jewellery. The chairman remarked, “Why are you people acting like you are scared?”
A member of the committee also asked about the value of the houses, which Bawa said was “about $80m.”
Earlier, Adeogun had asked Bawa about how the EFCC handles corruption suspects who opt for plea bargains while on trial.
Bawa noted that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act has certain provisions for a plea bargain, while the EFCC also has guiding principles on bargaining. While stating that the commission does not initiate plea bargaining, he said defence lawyers usually approach the anti-graft agency to seek a soft landing for their clients.
“Ours is to identify who committed a crime, how the crime was committed and what crime was committed. At the end of it all, we charge (the suspect) to court to go and present our case,” he noted.
The EFCC boss, however, explained that when approached for a plea bargain, the commission has the criteria it follows.
Meanwhile, Adeogun announced that the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, is to appear before the committee next week. He, however, said the investigative hearing had ended, while the lawmakers would still be consulting with government officials to conclude their probe.
The committee had during the appearance of the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed; and the Accountant General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, on Thursday, asked Emefiele to appear before it to explain some of the issues pertaining to recovered assets account and alleged illegal withdrawals from them.