Monday, April 15, 2024

Again, Reps grill Malami over $2.4bn illegal oil sale, demand records of $1bn recoveries

The House of Representatives, on Thursday, grilled the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), for the second time over alleged illegal sale of 48 million barrels of crude oil in China, valued at over $2.4bn.

Malami appeared along with the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice/Solicitor-General of the Federation, Beatrice Jedy-Agba, before the House’ Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate Alleged Loss of Over $2.4 Billion in Revenue from Illegal Sale of 48 Million Barrels of Crude Oil Export in 2015 Including All Crude Oil Exports and Sales by Nigeria from 2014 Till Date.

Despite the documents presented to the committee, based on an earlier request by the panel, the lawmakers asked for more documents.

While Malami restated his earlier position about the allegation and the probe, he also asked the lawmakers to avail him of documents and facts at their disposal to assist him in aiding the investigation.

Chairman of the committee, Mark Gbillah, earlier noted that the lawmakers were in possession of communication from the outgoing President Muhammadu Buhari “regarding this particular issue, which we will not say openly but will take up with you in private because we also understand certain things are classified and confidential.”

“We are not just embarking on something that is a wild goose chase. I want to put that on the record,” Gbillah added.

The chairman, while faulting an earlier claim by Malami at the last meeting that there was no formal committee set up by the President to investigate the matter, insisted that “an actual committee was set up, maybe you (the minister) are privy to it or not.”

He added that a former Minister of State for Petroleum Resources also made a formal communication to the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd.), “over this issue and we are in possession of that document.”

“So, I am quite surprised that your esteemed office did not have all this information. It might not be within your purview of knowledge, but we are surprised that it is not,” Gbillah stressed.

Responding, Malami insisted that he was not part of any formal presidential committee.

He added, “Secondly, aside from not being a member of any such committee, if any had existed, no document was made available to me as a person or to my office relating to this (petroleum) product. I am talking about a document made available by a whistle-blower or a document made available by the system. And to further confirm the problem, even when I was invited by this committee to appear, not a single document was made available to me for consideration.”

The minister said, rather, the committee in its correspondence to the ministry asked “about 30” questions and he had responded to them.

Malami stated, “So, in the absence of facts; in the absence of documents being presented for my consideration by the National Assembly; in the absence of documents being presented to me by the Executive for consideration; in the absence of my participation in any committee relating to the subject matter of investigation, it is not out of place for me to conclude that there is no justifiable, reasonable ground and basis for such consideration. And I stand my ground.”

The AGF noted that the “starting point” was that since the committee had documents at its disposal that were “establishing otherwise,” they should be forwarded to his office for consideration and then “perhaps revert to you with a comprehensive position in line with the analysis of the documents.”

Malami urged the committee and the ministry to “collectively review” the documents and reach a conclusion on them.

Gbillah, however, disagreed, noting that only the panel could determine how it would conduct the probe.

While the committee resolved to forward relevant documents to the minister by Tuesday, he noted that he would be dealing with the lawmakers by then as a “private citizen.”

Malami is a member of Buhari’s cabinet, whose regime ends on Monday and the Bola Tinubu administration takes over.

The AGF also confirmed to the committee that his office engaged consultants “not necessarily on account of whistle-blowing but on account of recovery, perhaps, identifying public assets either in the financial system or offshore.”

While answering some of the questions the committee asked in its letter to the ministry, Jedy-Agba noted that the ministry does not have investigative powers.

She, however, confirmed that the ministry received a petition from a non-governmental organisation through the OAGF.

“What we simply did was to send the petition and attachments to the office of the Inspector-General of Police. Perhaps, the Inspector-General should have checked if they were registered before embarking on an investigation. That question may be directed at them,” the Solicitor-General said.

“We only acted on the basis of the report of the investigation by the office of the Inspector-General. It was on the basis of the report that we filed charges. We did not take any action on the basis of the petition itself,” she added.

Gbillah, however, said some of the information sought by the committee was not in the presentation made by the ministry.

“In your response to the committee now, you made it clear that you have assisted the country commendably to recover over $1bn. But we cannot see $1bn in this submission, in terms of those recoveries as well, which is why we asked for the details of the whistle-blowers and the payments to them. We know that these payments were made in line with the whistle-blower policy,” he noted.

The Solicitor-General noted that a list of processed whistles had been listed in the document presented to the committee, while the total recoveries should be provided by the finance ministry, accountant-general and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

“What we sent to you was what we have in our records and I think in the documentation we provided, we also said we do not receive funds from the ministry,” Jedy-Agba stated.

In his response to a question on the five per cent commission entitled to a whistle-blower after a successful recovery, Malami noted that the percentage was dependent on the volume or size of the asset recovered.

“We have had cause to negotiate to as low as two per cent, depending on the volume of the asset meant for recovery,” he stated.

It was the second time that Malami and Jedy-Agba would appear since the probe began.

The minister, when he first appeared before the committee on April 27, 2023, had told the lawmakers that the allegation that 48 million barrels of crude oil valued at over $2.4bn was illegally sold to China was false.

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