Wahab Shittu, the counsel to the suspended acting chairperson of the anti-graft agency, EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, has accused the Ayo Salami-led panel of inviting witnesses despite Mr Magu’s conclusion of his defence.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported last month how Mr Magu, who is currently being investigated by the panel over allegations of graft and insubordination – closed his defence before the panel.
Mr Magu, through his counsel, had in the past through series of letters, also accused the investigative panel of preventing his client from calling a witness to strengthen his case, as well as subpoenaing certain individuals for his defence.
In a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday, the lawyer said despite his client’s closure of his defence about six weeks ago, the panel has continued to invite witnesses behind his client.
He said, “We understand from reports reaching us that the panel has continued to invite witnesses, about six weeks after our client has closed his defence.
“The invitation of witnesses (who have cases to answer and those who are being prosecuted by the EFCC) to testify behind my client and the verification of assets in his absence are patently illegal and offend the principle of fair hearing.
“About six weeks ago, our client concluded his defence. Between that time and now, a lot has happened. First, the panel embarked on verification of assets nationwide in the absence of our client. Verification of assets is part of evidence gathering and can be likened to a visit to locus-in-quo.
Citing Section 207(2) of the CPA, Mr Shittu said, “The accused shall be present at the view.”
“The accused must be present at the locus. If an inspection of the locus is undertaken and the accused person is absent, this is an irregularity. If the accused suffered miscarriage of justice as a result of this irregularity, an appeal court will set aside a conviction…” see identical provisions contained in CPC, s. 243 and proviso (ii) to Evidence Act Sec. 76.
Mr Shittu also accused Mr Salami of inviting officials of the commission on the pretext that Mr Magu, under his watch, interfered with the functions of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).
The lawyer explained that his client had only set up the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing the Terrorism (AML/CFT) Unit, responsible for intelligence gathering – to solve the allegations that the EFCC engages suspects without prior intelligence which affects and hampers proper investigation of cases.
He said, “We are also raising serious objection to the panel’s desire to ask questions from the EFCC officials on the pretext that the EFCC under the watch of our client is usurping the functions of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).
“We wish to state for the records that the setting up of anti-money laundering and countering the Financing the Terrorism (AML/CFT) Unit by our client is to aid the work of the commission and not to usurp the functions of any agency.
“This unit does not in any way carry out the functions of the NFIU which is to receive information, analyse the information and disseminate the information to other law enforcement agencies.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the AML/CFT Unit does not collect suspicious transaction reports from banks but only collects threshold transaction reports as done by other law enforcement agencies like DSS, FIRS, CBN and the ICPC,” Mr Shittu added
“What the Egmont group frowns about are suspicious transactions which are the exclusive reserve of the NFIU to collect. It is therefore misplaced to say that a law enforcement agency like the EFCC, having the sole mandate to investigate and prosecute money laundering and terrorist financing should not have access to financial information of suspects. We submit that anything to the contrary will only be diminishing the operations of the EFCC.
“We wish to state that the setting up the AML/CFT Unit is one of the strategies that Magu has put in place to enhance the operations of the EFCC,” Mr Shittu said.
The NFIU collects information on suspicious or unusual financial activity from the financial industry and other entities suspected of being money laundering or terrorism financing. Such information is then shared with relevant anti-crime or regulatory agencies.
The Egmont Group, an informal network of 156 financial intelligence units (FIUs), had in June 2017, suspended Nigeria due to the alleged inability of the country to grant autonomy to the NFIU.
Because of the suspension, President Muhammadu Buhari, in 2018, signed the Executive Order 6, making the NFIU domiciled “in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), “but will remain autonomous and Independent”.
Part of the allegations levelled against Mr Magu by his accuser, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, however, involves the expulsion of the Egmont group.
The AGF in 2017 had alleged that the “EFCC leadership has manipulated and misused intelligence to the detriment of the fight against corruption and financial crime in Nigeria.”
“The threat of expulsion from the Egmont Group calls for a thorough review of the NFIU. To achieve the desired goal, NFIU needs to stand alone as an agency with full complements of power to recruit its staff and an annual budgetary allocation guaranteed for its operations,” Mr Malami said.
Lawyer alleges bid to outs police from heading the EFCC
Mr Shittu also reacted to media reports stating how the panel plans to recommend that policemen should no longer be senior operatives of the EFCC.
Senior police officers usually occupy senior positions at the EFCC while others serve as investigators. Junior police officers serve as security officials at EFCC buildings and facilities and also as a security cover for EFCC operatives when they go for arrests of suspects.
In the past few months, PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, and the committee had, at separate times, ordered the withdrawal of several police personnel attached to the commission, replacing them with new officers.
The Salami panel has no spokesperson and journalists are barred from its sitting inside the Presidential Villa, making it impossible to get its reaction to the allegations raised by Mr Magu’s counsel.
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