New Democrat (Monrovia)

11 May 2009

Liberia: U.S.$ 0.52 Million Battle Lines Drawn - He's Drug Kingpin, But Nigeria Wants Money Back

Monrovia — The Nigerian ambassador here, along with a letter from the Nigerian Attorney General have contradicted the Government's claim that the confiscated US0.52m from a Nigerian was in consultation with and endorsement of the Nigerian Government.


It is  now revealed that the Nigerian Government, from the onset of the tussle over the money, demanded its  return while  authorities here say was intended to be laundered here.

The Nigerian ambassador here, Mr. Ebenezer Obegun, confirmed to this paper in an interview Friday that his country's Attorney General wrote a letter to the Attorney General at the time, Mrs Frances Johnson Morris, asking that the money be returned.


"Yes, I'm aware but as I said at the appropriate time I will speak on the issue. We are handling this matter through diplomatic process, it is not a matter for press coverage at this time because there are diplomatic dimensions through which government can consult, after the consultation then we will know what next to follow," said Amb. Obegun

The letter, published in full here is a reminder to Liberian officials about Abuja's desire to have the confiscated money (USD508,200) retrieved after they apparently failed to response to  earlier letter dated 4th October 2006 with same position. The letter amongst others said that the money was a pivotal exhibit in the investigation and prosecution of the Nigerian(Velentine Ogbonna Ayika) arrested here for money laundering and suspected drug trafficking thus it must be returned.


The Letter:

"1. I refer to my letter Ref. No.HAGF/AG/LIBERIA/2006/Vol. 1 dated 4th October 2006 in respect of the above caption. A copy of the said letter is attached for ease of reference.
"2. May I once again acknowledge on behalf of the Federal Government of Nigeria the cooperation and assistance received from the Liberian Authorities in facilitating the expulsion of the suspect from Liberia for detailed investigation and prosecution in Nigeria.
"3. However, I reiterate my request for the immediate release of the sum of $508,200.00(Five Hundred and Eighty Thousand and Two Hundred Dollars) subject of this investigation, as well as all other relevant documents as the conclusion of investigation and prosecution of the suspect is now stalled by the absence of these vital exhibits.
"4. Please be assured of our cooperation in this regard and other matters of mutual conclusion".

But in a press statement issued Sunday, the Ministry of Justice maintained that the Nigerian Government endorsed the seizure, although the Nigerian JusticeMinister's  letter of 7 February 2007 takes a contrary position.

The Statement: "The seizure of the money in question was consistent with the Liberian laws with respect to money laundering, as confirmed by the action of Criminal Court A which ordered the confiscation of said money. The government's action was also in accordance with international money transfer standards which require that a declaration should be made for any amount over $10,000. In· this regard, the amount that was strapped and plastered to Mr. Ayika's body was more than 50 times the legal amount allowable and reportable.

The seizure action was taken in consultation with the Government of Nigeria. The then Government of Nigeria concurred that the Liberian Government should proceed in accordance with the laws of Liberia and international money transfer standards. Earlier last week President Johnson-Sirleaf spoke to the Liberian Government's use of the money for national security and enforcement purposes after concurrence by then President Obasanjo.

According to the Nigerian Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Chief Bayo Ojo, Mr. Ayika was convicted in the Philippines in 1997 for trafficking Cocaine. Additionally, Mr. Ayika has been on the United States Drug Enforcement Agency's wanted list for drug trafficking and money laundering. The Nigerian Attorney General further declared that "The non-declaration of the money at the point of departure in Nigeria in accordance with Section 2 (3) of the Money Laundering (prohibition) Act 2004 as well as the circumstances surrounding the transfer of this huge sum of money outside the country without passing through a bank or financial institution are prima facie evidence that the money was laundered"

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