Abuja — An Abuja High Court sitting at Jabi, on Monday, declined to stay the execution of a bench warrant it issued for the arrest of the immediate past Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, SAN, and former Minister of Petroleum, Dan Etete.
The court had on April 17, ordered that the former Ministers and four others should be arrested over alleged role they played in the $1.2billion Malabu Oil bloc fraud.
Others the court said should be arrested were four Italians- Raph Wetzels, Casula Roberto, Pujato Stefeno and Burrato Sebastiano- who were accused of complicity in the alleged fraud.
The arrest warrant against them followed a motion ex-parte marked M/5290/2019, which was filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
EFCC, which predicated the motion on alleged refusal by the former AGF, Etete and the others to make themselves available for prosecution, equally secured leave of trial Justice Danlami Senchi, to execute the arrest warrant outside the jurisdiction of the court.
The commission said it was already collaborating with the Interpol with a view to apprehending all the Defendants for prosecution.
Other Defendants in the substantive charge with suit No. CR/124/2017, are Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company Ltd, Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd, Eni SPA, Aliyu Abubakar and Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd.
EFCC anchored its request for an arrest order to be issued against six of the Defendants on provisions of sections 35 and 37 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, section 20 (1) (b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, as well as, section 35(1) (c) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
The Commission, through its lawyer, Mr. Aliyu Yusuf, told the court that since March 2, 2017, when the charge was filed, the six Defendants, "have refused, neglected and/or failed to appear before this honourable court to be arraigned on the said charge".
Meantime, on Monday, the Defendants, through their lawyers, made an oral application praying the court to temporarily suspend execution of the arrest warrant against them.
Etete's lawyer, L.O Ikwegwe, begged the court to allow her to grant her a short time to respond to a counter-affidavit she said was just served on her by the EFCC.
Her application was adopted by counsel to the Italians, Mr. Joe Gadzama, SAN, who further prayed the court to compel the anti-graft agency to enter an undertaken not to proceed with the arrest since there was a legal challenge against the warrant.
Similarly, counsel to the 4th Defendant, Mr. Faje Opasanya, SAN, said he was also constrained to ask for adjournment as new allegations were raised in EFCC's counter-affidavit.
He contended that the essence of objection raised against the arrest order would be defeated if the prosecution is allowed to move against the Defendants before the next date.
However, in a ruling, Justice Senchi agreed with the prosecution counsel, Mr. Aliyu Yusuf, that such request could not be made orally, noting that it touched on a pending application for stay of proceedings in the trial.
Rather than accede to the request, the court fixed June 11 for hearing of all the pending applications.
The court ordered all the parties to enter any process they intend to file before June 5, even as it okayed accelerated hearing on the matter.
EFCC had in a 13-paragraphed affidavit that was deposed to by one of its operatives, Mr. Ahmed Ibrahim, told the court that fact that led to the charge was "a case of fraudulent allocation of Oil Prospecting Licence of OPL 245 and OPL 214, conspiracy, laundering of over $1.2billion, forgery of bank documents, bribery and corruption against Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep (SNUD), Nigeria Agip Exploration (NAE) and their officials".
The commission told the court that after a discrete investigation it conducted, " a prima facie case was made, culminating into the charge against the Defendants".
According to the deponent: "That I am aware that apart from the instant charge, most of the Defendants herein have two other criminal charges filed against them by the Complainant/Applicant at the Federal High Court with charge numbers: FHC/ABJ/CR/39/17 and FHC/ABJ/CR/268/2016, respectively.
" That arraignment of the Defendants in this case could not take place because the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Defendants are at large and have refused to make themselves available.
"That all efforts to apprehend the fleeing Defendants/Respondents proved abortive.
"That in furtherance of efforts to apprehend the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Defendants/Respondents, the EFCC contacted the Nigeria Police to assist in watch-listing them and facilitating their arrest and apprehension.
"That the Nigeria Police in response, requested for detailed particulars and necessary processes to enable them liase with INTERPOL and apprehend the fleeing Defendants.
"That the Nigeria Police and the INTERPOL and other relevant sister organisation have insisted that in addition to having a pending charge before a competent court, there must be warrant of arrest to enable the organization to apprehend the Defendants.
"That granting this application will facilitate the required liaison with INTERPOL and ensure that the Defendants/Respondents are apprehended and produced before the court for their arraignment on the charges filed against them", EFCC added.
It will be recalled that the anti-graft agency had alleged that Adoke, Etete, an oil mogul, Abubakar, and Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd, had sometime in 2000, corruptly received the aggregate sum of $801,000,000.00 (Eight hundred and one million Dollars) in relation to the grant of oil prospecting license in respect of OPL 245 from Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company, Nigeria Agip Exploration Ltd, and ENI SPA.
OPL 245 is regarded as one of the biggest oil blocs in Africa.
It was initially awarded to Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd in 1998 by late military head of state, General Sani Abacha, in a process the EFCC insisted was against all known government regulations.
EFCC said its investigations revealed that Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd secured OPL 245 through fraudulent scheme involving high scale bribery and corruption by top management of the company and some government officials.
Processes the anti-graft agency filed in court further revealed that the oil bloc was later withdrawn from Malabu Oil & Gas Ltd on July 2, 2001, based on the directive of then Presidential Adviser on Petroleum to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, after which it was re-allocated to Shell Nigeria Ultra Deep Ltd.
However, following series of litigations, OPL 245 was returned back to Malabu, which EFCC said subsequently went into a fraudulent agreement with Shell and Agip, in which the companies paid signature bonus of $210million to FG, while additional $1.2billion bribe was given to some owners of Malabu Oil $ Gas Ltd led by a former Minister of Petroleum under Abacha, Chief Etete, who as at then was already a convict.
EFCC alleged that it was Adoke who fled the country shortly after former President Goodluck Jonathan lost his re-election bid, that helped Shell and Agip to route the bribe money through FG's Escrow Account with JP Morgan Chase Bank in London.
Adoke had since denied the allegation, insisting that he was innocent.