28 May 2021
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N28.3tn illegal funds remain in Texas banks since firm’s discovery in 2019
Ex-NSA Azazi’s $9bn loot can be recovered within three months – US firm
An American assets recovery firm, Forensic Assets Investigation and Recovery Services LLC, has traced $69bn (about N28.3tn) to different Texas bank accounts accrued from illegal oil deals by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
The money was believed to have been siphoned from undeclared crude oil sales under the Goodluck Jonathan administration allegedly by the NNPC officials and their collaborators in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Out of the stash, $9bn was traced to a Texas bank account allegedly belonging to a former National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi.
Azazi died in a helicopter crash in Okoroba, Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, in December 2012, alongside the Governor of Kaduna State, Patrick Yakowa, Warrant Officer Kamal Mohammed; a prominent politician from Kaduna, Dauda Psokho; the pilot, identified as Commander Muritala Daba; and co-pilot, Lt Col. Adeyemi Sowole.
The assets recovery firm in a confidential memo to the Special Presidential Investigation Panel said it could recover the money if engaged and its expenses and compensation paid.
The former SPIP Chairman, Okon Obono-Obla had yet to conclude the recovery process before the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), removed him from the panel and directed the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, to take over the affairs of the SPIP.
Findings by The PUNCH indicate that the American company, FAIR, is a specialist in anti-corruption asset recovery working independently to trace and help repatriate money stashed away in foreign bank accounts and loot converted to real estate, luxury items, yachts and the money markets.
The firm, founded by a lawyer, Gary Riebschlager, comprises investigators, forensic accountants, bankers, and cyber experts who utilise Mutual Legal Agreements and global Financial Intelligence Units, Camden Assets Recovery Inter-Agency Network, Global Focus Point Network in Asset Recovery (Interpol), and the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative of the World Bank.
In a letter to the President on the matter dated March 18, 2019, the SPIP explained that the assets recovery firm had assured that the $9bn belonging to Azazi could be recovered within three to five months, if engaged and the necessary fee paid while its charges and compensation would be paid upon recovery.
However, two years after the SPIP notified the President about the loot, the Federal Government has not taken concrete steps to recover the money.
Our correspondent had reported that over 400 criminal and graft cases retrieved from the SPIP by the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice had been abandoned.
The SPIP letter with reference number SPIP/SH/2019/VOL.1/1 titled, ‘American assets investigation and recovery company has traced a definite $9bn funds linked to late Gen. Azazi,’ was signed by the then chairman of the panel, Okoi Obono-Obla.
It read in part, “In January 2019, an American assets recovery company, Forensic Assets Investigation and Recovery Services LLC sent a confidential memo to us stating the discovery of a definite total amount of $9bn in the State of Texas linked to late General Azazi (former NSA), plus additional huge amount in excess of $60bn from multiple sources of illegal sales of crude oil from Nigeria into the entire United States of America.
“Mr President, the confidential memo to us prompted our agency to seriously engage the US company to determine the veracity of the information, which resulted in an official invitation to them that they may visit us to further discuss and agree on steps needed to recover and return the funds to the Nigerian government.”
“Follow-up information from the Americans indicate that the definite $9bn can be recovered and returned to Nigeria within 3 to 5 months, if engaged and expense fee is provided, while compensation and charges shall be paid upon recovery. They also informed us that the major funds were stolen via the NNPC and the Central Bank of Nigeria,” the letter to the President further stated.
Following the overwhelming evidence provided by the assets recovery company regarding the $9bn and their capacity to recover and return the fund, the SPIP explained that it decided to engage with the American forensic experts on a face-to-face meeting scheduled for March 29, 2019.
The panel also attached a copy of the firm’s acceptance letter to its memo to the President and sought Buhari’s approval for the planned meeting with the American company.
The memo noted, “Mr President, we intend to work together with the Americans in order to secure the recovery of the definite $9bn within 3-5 months they stated and to engage them to see and recover the larger part of the estimated $60bn-$80 stolen from Nigeria during the oil boom. Also, to engage the NNPC and the CBN in the overall recovery of those funds in the United States.
“Our prayers to the President are: To approve the engagement of the American company to recover the funds and assets in the US and to approve the support of the visiting American firm to integrate software technology in the CBN in order to trace fraud funds.
“To approve the presence of interface offices of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel in NNPC and the CBN. Your Excellency, the immediate recovery of the identified $9bn within the stated timeframe of 3-5 months will totally eliminate borrowing to fund the 2018 budget deficit and sustain the 2019 budget.”
Our correspondent sought the comment of the Forensic Assets Investigation and Recovery Services LLC on the hidden funds but the firm failed to respond to inquiries despite claims on its website that it responds to inquiries within 24 hours.
But a special investigator with the SPIP, Tosin Ojaomo, asked Buhari to give approval for the continuation of investigations into certain cases that could make huge assets recoveries for the nation, noting that the AGF had placed an embargo on the operation of the panel and stalled its assets recovery efforts.
The lawyer, who appeared before the Ad hoc Committee on Assessment and Status of All Recovered Loots, House of Representatives, on Wednesday said, “The Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property has started the process of recovering most of these funds but the AGF has wielded his big stick by placing embargo on further operations of the panel.
“We hope that President Buhari can intervene in this matter to ensure that all the cases which were thoroughly investigated by the panel which is about to lead to huge recoveries for the country be allowed to continue. I advise that President Buhari after taking the audacious step of setting up the panel after 13 years of existence of the law should allow the constitution of this panel and direct the immediate opening of its office.”
Ojaomo further called for support for the SPIP by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation, stressing that the country has a lot to benefit from the panel’s operations.
Malami has a record of facilitating assets recoveries – Media aide
The Media Aide to the AGF, Dr Umar Gwandu, said his principal had a record of facilitating assets recoveries, noting that he could not have scrapped the SPIP as he was not the President.
Gwandu said the allegations against Malami was a figment of the imagination of mischief-makers “who are bent on destroying the hard-earned image” of the AGF.
He stated, “The Attorney-General of the Federation has a record of facilitating the recovery of looted assets across the globe. It is evidently clear and records are available that the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation has facilitated recoveries of looted Nigerian assets in the United States of America, United Kingdom, among others.
“The Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice has a record of leading the Nigerian legal team against the payment of USD9.5bn related to P&ID case.”
According to Malami’s spokesman, “such a diligent and patriotic public office holder will never frustrate the recovery of any Nigerian looted funds. Please check your facts as to why the SPIP was scrapped? Who were the actors that resulted into the stoppage of the SPIP? The meaning of SPIP is Special Presidential Investigation Panel; it is presidential.’’