By Ihechi Enyinnaya
The United Kingdom, (UK) has been asked to probe allegations made by Nigerian former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke that the Mutual Legal Assistance, (MLA) made by UK to Italy which aided his in Milam was forged.
Adoke had written a petition to the Nigerian Inspector General of Police, (IG) Mohammed Adamu claiming that the legal instrument deployed to aid his conviction in Italy over the OPL 245 scam was forged.
Leading global coalition against corruption including Human and Environmental Development Agenda, (HEDA), Re-Common, Water House and a host of others had provided technical assistance in exposing alleged corrupt practices involving Oil giants, Eni and Shell.
In a petition addressed to Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, one of the leading anti-corruption group in the UK, The Corner House asked the UK to investigate Adoke’s allegations saying that it represents a challenge to the United Kingdom legal institution. A copy of the petition was also sent to President Mohamadu Buhari and his Vice Prof. ‘Yemi Osibajo.
The Corner House cautioned the Nigerian police to recognize the international dimension the case has taken and not to allow individuals to subvert the institutions of justice in Nigeria. The group said the proper place for Adoke to have challenged the veracity of the email was in the court room in Milan where it was used as evidence against him and the oil giants.
Following Adoke’s petition, the Inspector General’s office summoned HEDA’s Chairman, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju to Abuja in relation to Adoke’s allegations. Although the meeting had been confirmed, the Adoke’s lawyers were not available during the last visit. Mr Suraju has now been told that he must attend a meeting next week, requiring him to travel yet again to Abuja.
The Corner House said ‘We are concerned that this pattern may repeat itself. We recognise that it is entirely plausible that the email itself may not have been written or sent by Adoke. As his lawyers have stated it may have been sent on his behalf. However, we categorically deny that we forged the email. Indeed, the notion that a document furnished by the UK in response to an MLA is a forgery is both entirely fanciful and highly damaging to the UK’s reputation as a trusted party to the MLA process.’ The group said it was obtained through a government-to-government request from Italy to the United Kingdom.
‘The documentation is now part of the public record and it is clear from the correspondence that the email was obtained from JP Morgan by the UK Serious Fraud Office and transmitted directly to the Milan Prosecutor. Neither Mr Suraju nor Corner House nor Global Witness nor Re:Common were involved at any stage in the chain of custody’ The Corner House said.
The group said while it understands that the UK cannot (and should not) seek to intervene in Nigerian police investigations, however, ‘we believe it is of critical importance that the Foreign Office confirm that the MLA request from Italy and the UK’s response were lawful and were not open to forgery.’ The Mutual legal assistance is a treaty of bilateral collaboration between different countries for the purpose of collecting and exchanging information. Authorities in any country may demand for evidence located in another to aid criminal probe. Adoke in his petition to the IG had claimed that evidence provided by the UK through the MLA to Italy in response to a Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) request by the Milan Prosecutor was forged.
The Corner House petition signed by its Co-Director, Nicholas Hildyard, said Adoke’s allegations engage the Foreign Office because someone in a foreign jurisdiction has questioned the authenticity of the UK’s MLA response.
The OPL scandal involves graft allegations against Shell and Eni acquisition of the oil field which prompted the Federal Government of Nigeria to sue sue JP Morgan Chase in the English High Court for damages relating to the bank’s handling of funds arising from the deal.
A Mohamed Adoke, who was Attorney General of Nigeria at the time of the deal, corresponded with JP Morgan from an email address JPMC admits its existence and content of the email from A group properties. A company named A Group Construction subsequently became a vehicle through which some of the OPL 245 funds transferred by JP Morgan to a company named Malabu Oil & Gas were disbursed. Prosecutors said the name of the company was subsequently used to purchase a house for Adoke.
On 23rd November 2020, the anti-corruption groups, The Corner House together with the Italian NGO Re:Common, wrote to the Milan Prosecutor to draw his attention to the email believed to be relevant to the prosecution in Milan of Royal Dutch Shell, Eni Spa and others for alleged international corruption in relation to the OPL 245 deal. All the defendants have subsequently been acquitted. The Milan Prosecutor issued a European Investigation Order to the UK, seeking the email from JP Morgan and later accepted email as exhibit.
However, on 5 February 2021, the law firm Kanu G. Agabi, acting for Adoke, wrote to Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police, claiming that the individuals who initiated the petition, investigations and the criminal trial at the court of Milan have engaged in acts of forgery of the email document dated 21 June 2011 Adoke’s lawyer accused the NGOs of criminal forgery with the intent to unlawfully interfere with the course of justice and law in Nigeria and Italy against the persons who initiated the petition, investigations and criminal trial at the court of Milan and thereby engaged in acts of forgery of the email documents dated 21 June 2011
The letter was received by the Inspector General on 10 February 2021. Adoke’s lawyers did not name names. However, The Corner House was a signatory, together with Re:Common and Global Witness, to the complaint that led to the investigation and subsequent prosecution in Milan. A Nigerian group, HEDA, had also submitted a petition to Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that led to the current prosecution of Adoke and Aliyu in Nigeria. Both Adoke and Aliyu deny the charges against them.
On 11 February 2021, a newspaper report in Nigeria carried a press statement by Adoke’s lawyers which repeated the charge that the email had been forged by “parties responsible for the petition, investigations and commencement of the criminal trial at the court of Milan”. The statement also confirmed that a complaint had been made to the Inspector General of Police in Nigeria. The petition to the Inspector General was also published online.
On 1 March 2021, Corner House, Re:Common and HEDA wrote to the Inspector General of Police, categorically denying Mr Adoke’s assertions that the email was a forgery and that the forgery was the work by the organisations behind the petitions filed with the Milan and Nigerian authorities.