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The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has said that the approval he gave for the sale of forfeited oil vessels to operators in the oil industry was “legal.”

Mr Malami spoke after it emerged that he directed a firm, Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd, to dispose of crude oil and diesel in four sea vessels through an open bid, despite the company standing trial for allegedly stealing about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil loaded in a vessel.

The report was first published by the news site, Sahara Reporters.

A statement signed by his spokesperson, Umar Gwandu, Mr Malami said the approval to dispose of the crude oil vessels followed the final forfeiture order obtained by his office and a presidential directive of October 25, 2018.

He said the vessels were disposed of in accordance with due process, following a report submitted by the then Ministry of Works, Power and Housing on the value of the assets.

He said though Jerome Itepu of Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd and his company are still standing trial, they have not been convicted by any court of law in the country and can thus not be denied the opportunity to participate in the auction bidding process by law.

Citing Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution the AGF said, “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 a criminal offence, if indeed any, does that take away the Constitutional presumption of innocence in their eligibility to apply and be considered for auction?

“To my mind, the point of interest to the public are: Whether:- Omo-Jay is in any way connected with Malami by way of fronting for him; whether Malami is sharing the proceeds of the sale or, in any way benefiting in the transaction.

Read Mr Malami’s statement

“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 on board of MT AKUADA and MT HOPE.

“That was four years before the coming of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government and long before Malami was appointed as the Attorney General of the Federation.

“The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (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 the following orders:

“An order vesting custody of the vessel with contents on the Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN); an order forfeiting the vessel MT AKUADA used in conveying bunkered 12, 000 metric tonnes of crude oil seized to FRN; and order forfeiting the bunkered 12, 000 to the FRN.

“The Motion was struck out on 23rd October 2009.

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“Also note that Omoh Jay Nig. Ltd filed Suit No FHC/L/CS/652/2018 against EFCC and four others on 11th September 2018 at Lagos Judicial division before Hon. 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.

“The EFCC did not file a Counter Affidavit or any written agreement. On 13th May, 2019, Hon. Justice M.S Hassan granted the prayer of Omoh Jay Nig Ltd.

“The OHAGF (Office of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation) confirms that, following the President’s 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.

“The OHAGF engaged their vide letter dated 9th September, 2019 to conduct an Open Bid Sale for the following vessels: 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.

“The only involvement of Omoh Jay Nigeria Limited as far as the documents before the OHAGF is the baseless freezing of Omoh Jay Nigeria Limited 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.

“It is worthy to mention that the disposal of the vessels were done following the final forfeiture obtained by the OHAGF and the Presidential directive of 25th October, 2018 directing the OHAGF 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.

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“Therefore, as far as the question of criminality of Omoh Jay Nigeria Ltd is concerned, it is not before the OHAGF and for avoidance of doubt, it should be noted that the disposed of the vessels under reference were conducted with due process following a report submitted by the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing on the value of these assets.

“It should be further noted that Omoh Jay Nigeria Limited is one amongst the 38 auctioneers appointed by the OHAGF after being selected during the opening of the pre-qualification bid.

“The disposal of the vessels was also done following Final Forfeiture Order obtained by the OHAGF and recovered monies are paid into the FGN Recovery Account.

“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.

“The process that lead to the purported auction in contention had its antecedence in a letter 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 thus;

“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 its 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 Omoh-Jay Nigeria Limited was profiled, considered and allocated vessels that were available for disposals.

“I make bold to state that Omoh-Jay Nigeria Limited 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.

“The issue of interest to the public, of which a serious journalist need 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?

“To my mind, the point of interest to the public are: Whether:- Omo-Jay is in any way connected with Malami by way of fronting for him; whether Malami is sharing the proceeds of the sale or, in any way benefiting in the transaction.

“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? Sahara Reporters is challenged to come out with answers.”

Malami is also alleged to have given the firm permission to sell five vessels despite the fact its Managing Director, Jerome Itepu, stood trial at the Delta State High Court in Asaba, for allegedly stealing about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil, which was valued at N384m in 2009.”

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