Minister of justice and attorney-general of the federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, has described as “malicious and unfounded” claims that the country lost over $2.4 billion revenue from alleged illegal sale of 48 million barrels of crude oil exported in 2015 to China.
Malami faulted the allegations while appearing before the ad-hoc committee investigating the alleged sale of 48 million barrels of crude oil amounting to over $2.4 billion and crude oil export to global destinations from 2014 to date.
The House had in December 2022 resolved to constitute an ad-hoc committee to probe the allegation when it adopted a motion sponsored by Isiaka Ibrahim from Ogun State at plenary.
The committee was also mandated to investigate all crude oil exports and sales by Nigeria from 2014 till date with regards to quantity, insurance, revenue generated, remittances into the federation accounts or other accounts, as well as utilisation of the revenue for the period under review.
Ibrahim had said in the motion that, “a whistle-blower alleged in July 2020 that he had in July 2015, brought to the attention of a committee purportedly set up by the president for the recovery of missing crude oil exports, the existence of 48 million barrels of Nigeria’s Bonny Light crude oil in storage at several ports in China, under the authorisation of the then Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to sell the cargo.”
Malami, who appeared before the committee yesterday, said his office had filed a criminal suit against the individuals who purportedly raised the allegations being investigated by the Ad-hoc Committee.
According to him, the individuals had attempted to defraud the federal government under the guise that the alleged crude oil stolen in China had been recovered.
Malami said the ongoing investigation initiated by the House was unconstitutional and sub judice, arguing that the prosecution of the petitioners which started in 2019 suffered setback as a result of series of adjournments caused by the absence of the accused persons.
He said the allegation in its own right is devoid of any reasonable ground pointing to a material suspicion cogent enough to invoke the constitutional oversight of the Committee.
The AGF stated: “Let me state on record and for the benefit of Nigerians and the committee that the allegations relating to the 48 million barrels are baseless. The allegation is unfounded. It lacks merit and indeed substance.
“The allegation in its own right is devoid of any reasonable ground pointing to a material suspicion cogent enough to invoke the constitutional oversight of the Committee.
“Why do I say so? Sometimes in 2016 allegations were rife and hyped in the social media. There were allegations of the existence of stolen 48 million barrels of Nigerian crude in China said to have been valued at $2.4 billion.
“President Muhammadu Buhari informally requested the attorney-general, making reference to my humble person, Mele Kyari, Lawal Daura, former DG of DSS; and late Abba Kyari; to look into it and advise. But unfortunately, for there to be a reasonable ground for suspicion, at least, you require certain basic facts.
“If you’re talking of a product, you cannot establish the substance relating thereto, without confirming the origin of the purported product in China. If you talk about a product in China, is it of Nigerian origin? That can be ascertained by sample and specifications. Is it Bonny Light for example, which you know emanates from Nigeria or what is it.
“The basic details of the existence of the product and connecting it to Nigeria were not there at all. If you are talking of a product, the vessel perhaps that has taken it, what are the particulars and details of the vessel? They were not available at our disposal at all.
“Which authority is it that has taken custody of the product? There was no information at all. So, the issue is simple. There were no reasonable grounds for suspicion of the fact that the purported oil product either exists in spirit or in fact or indeed exists in China – and it is in no way connected to Nigeria. And all effort on our part to get details has proven abortive.
“So, it was a committee that was dead on arrival because it had not been formally constituted.
“So, we could not establish the substance in the allegation because detail information to confirm the existence and origin of of the shipment such as sample of the oil, vessel involved loading point etc, location of the crude in China etc were not provided
“So, we reported to the president that we were unable to confirm the veracity of the allegation hence no further action was taken by my office,” Malami said.
Malami further disclosed that the OAGF was instrumental to the recovery of various sums of funds which were deposited in the Asset Recovery Account domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
These include $322 million recovered from Switzerland in 2016; $311.4 million from US/UK; $15.4 million Abacha Loot recovered in 2020 from Northern Ireland; £12.2 billion recovered from Ibori; $20 million recovered from Licosta as well as £954 recovered from Diepreye Solomon Peter Alamieyeseigha, respectively.
Responding to questions on the recovered funds, payment and disbursement, he said, “Ministry of Finance is the coordinator of the whistle blower policy and all payments to Whistle blower are made by the federal ministry of finance, budget and national planning.
“It should be noted that whistle blowing thrives on confidentiality and protection of information. Therefore, disclosure of the details of whistle blowers at a public hearing breaches the confidentiality provision of which the office of the attorney general was committed to on the account of personal security and national security.
“So, arising from that consideration, I have taken pains to develop information taking into consideration the confidentiality element of it but providing the same for the consideration of the committee exclusively.”
He said the details of international account, expenditure, statement of accounts are obtainable from the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Malami continued: “For the information of the committee, the office of the attorney-general does not maintain the custody of an account of associated recoveries maintained by the Central Bank and open on the request of the office of Attorney General and then open on the directives of the office of the Accountant General.
“As far as being a signatory or in any way being responsible in the management of such an account is concerned, the office of the attorney general is in no way connected whatsoever.
“Whatsoever information that may be required as it connects to the details of the signatories, details for the management, details of the disbursement associated with the recoveries accounts, I suggest that the Federal Ministry of Finance, the office of Accountant General are exclusive custodians, managers and operators of the account, no the office of the attorney-general.
“What I am saying in essence is that reference or details, signatories, disbursement, associated information on all the recovery accounts should be routed to the Central Bank, office of the accountant-general and indeed, the Federal Ministry of Finance that are the operators, maintainers, custodians of this account in question”.