Vessels auction: My approval legal ― Malami

Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) said due process of law was followed in the approval granted to a firm, Omoh Jay Nig Ltd to dispose of vessels, as the approval followed the final forfeiture order obtained by his office and the Presidential Directive of October 25, 2018.

He said the directive was to put in the interim before the passage of the Proceeds of Crime Bill, appropriate transitional arrangements for the management and expeditious disposal of the realizable assets so as to preserve their economic value.

A statement by Dr Umar Gwandu, the Special Assistant to the Minister on Press and Public Relations yesterday said, “As far as the question of criminality of Omoh Jay Nigeria Ltd is concerned, it is not before the office of the AGF and for the avoidance of doubt, it should be noted that the disposal of the vessels under reference was conducted with due process following a report submitted by the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing on the value of these assets”.

Malami explained that Omoh Jay Nigeria Ltd is one amongst the 38 auctioneers appointed by his office after being selected during the opening of the pre-qualification bid.

He said the disposal of the vessels was also done following Final Forfeiture Order obtained by his office and recovered monies are paid into the federal government Recovery Account, adding that, “As at date, the recovered monies for the sale of MT Asteris with Crude Oil and content in MT Anuket Emerald has been paid into the FGN Asset Recovery Account domiciled at CBN”.

According to Malami, the process that led to the purported auction in contention had its antecedence in a letter with reference number (DPR/DSM/ROM/OPS/V.2/285) dated 11th August 2009 from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources titled, “Re: Update on the status of vessels arrested for illegal bunkering – MT Akauda and MT HOPE” by which the  Chief of Naval Staff was notified  that,

“Considering the deteriorating state of the vessels as evidenced by frequent ingress of water into the tanks, which threatens the environment as expressed in your letter referenced above, and in order to avoid possible spillage from the vessels and consequent environmental pollution, we wish to state clearly that we do not have any objection with the evacuation of the vessels.

“Evidenced by the above correspondence, it is only reasonable and logical to conclude that the process of the auction as it relates to the vessel was at the multi-institutional instance out of environmental concerns and the process that ensued eventually entertained public expression of interest on account of which Omoh-Jay Nigeria Limited is one.”

In tune and in line with the presumption of innocence, eligibility of the company as a legal entity, he said, Omoh-Jay Nigeria Limited was profiled, considered and allocated vessels that were available for disposals.

According to him, “I make bold to state that Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd was in no way known, associated or related to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, either in his official or personal capacities.”

He said the publication by Sahara Reporters and the Punch on July 12, 2020 alleging that the AGF granted approval to Omoh Jay Nig Ltd, purportedly standing trial in court for stealing crude oil, diesel to auction goods seized from it was misleading and aimed at confusing the public and tarnishing his good image.

Malami further explained that Omoh Jay Nig Ltd was granted approval vide Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) letter DPR/DSM/ROM/OPS/COL 2/285 dated 11th August 2009 to evacuate the products onboard of MT AKUADA and MT HOPE, four years before the coming of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government and long before Malami was appointed as the AGF.

“EFCC filed a motion dated 8th June 2009 but filed on 11th June 2009 in Suit No. FHC/B/130C/08 held at Court 1, Ikpoba Hill, Benin City before Hon. Justice Chukwura Nnamani praying for an order vesting custody of the vessel with contents on the Federal Government.

“An order forfeiting vessel MT AKUADA used in conveying bunkered 12, 000 metric tonnes of crude oil seized to FRN; and an order forfeiting the bunkered 12, 000 to FRN”.

He explained further that the Motion was struck out on 23rd October 2009 and that Omoh Jay Nig. Ltd filed Suit No FHC/L/CS/652/2018 against EFCC and 4 ors on 11th September 2018 at Lagos Judicial Division before Justice M.S Hassan praying for an order directing the EFCC to unfreeze its account at Zenith Bank as it unlawfully and illegally connived to freeze the account without a valid court order.

That the EFCC did not file a Counter Affidavit or any written agreement. On May 13, 2019, Justice M.S Hassan granted the prayer of Omoh Jay Nig Ltd and that his office confirmed that, following the presidential directive to clear territorial waters and highways of obsolete and unauthorized vessels, barges, ships, boats, trucks vehicles amongst others, it obtained Final Forfeiture Orders dated 16th January 2018 and 15th April 2019 from the Federal High Court on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria in Suit N0 FHC/ABJ/CS/741/2017, FHC/ABJ/CS/742/2017 and FHC/ABJ/CS/237/2019.

Based on the advice of the Office of the National Security Adviser which is predicated upon the risk being posed by the drifting vessel MT ANUKET containing crude oil at Elegushi Beach and on the basis of the expertise and experience of Omoh Jay Nigeria Limited in the disposal of the content of AKUADA and MT HOPE when engaged by the Department of Petroleum Resources dated 11th August 2009, his office was engaged, vide a letter dated 9th September 2019 to conduct an Open Bid Sale for the MT ASTERIS with Crude Oil; MV PSV DERBY with Automated Gas Oil (AGO); MV ZAHRA with Automated Gas Oil (AGO); MT PEACE; and MT ANUKET EMERALD.

He said, the only involvement of Omoh Jay Nigeria Ltd as far as the documents before the office of the AGF is the baseless freezing of Omoh Jay Nigeria Ltd account as a fall out in the case lost by the EFCC on MT AKUADA and MT HOPE and even at that, the Federal High Court, Lagos Division has struck out motion brought against Omoh Jay Nigeria Limited as stated above.

“The issue of interest to the public, of which a serious journalist needs to support the general public to know is whether Omoh-Jay being a duly registered company can be denied opportunity to participate in the auction bidding process on a purported account that the company is standing trial (Not convicted) by a competent court of the land if indeed as claimed by Sahara Reporters, the Company is being criminally tried.

“The position of the law is clear by virtue of Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) that a person is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty.

“Assuming, without conceding that Omo-Jay is being tried for criminal offence, if indeed any, does that take away the Constitutional presumption of innocence in their eligibility to apply and be considered for auction?” he said.

He said if the allegation is that of breach of process and procedures of disposal of assets, Sahara Reporters need to clearly state which processes and procedures were breached and challenged Sahara Reporters is to come out with answers.

 

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