An anti-corruption group, Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), has sued a former Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mohammed Adoke, for allegedly making “false and malicious claims” against it.
The group, which disclosed this in a statement on Sunday, said Mr Adoke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), had by its claims, tarnished its “hard-earned image.”
Its team of lawyers led by Kunle Adegoke, filed a suit on its behalf at the FCT High Court in Abuja, seeking an order compelling Mr Adoke to withdraw the malicious publications and pay to it N100 million in damages, according to the statement.
Mr Adoke had sent a petition to the police, accusing HEDA’s chair, Olanrewaju Suraju, of forging a piece of e-mail evidence presented against him by prosecutors in the Malabu oil block transaction trial in Milan, Italy.
The former attorney-general also later complained to the police that some people, one of whom he suspected to be Mr Suraju, circulated a fake tape purporting it to be that of an interview he had with an Italian journalist admitting that the Malabu transaction was a scam.
PREMIUM TIMES reported how Mr Adoke also levelled similar allegations against two prosecutors handling the Milan trial and asked for an investigation in a petition he sent to the Italian Ministry of Justice.
Mr Suraju has been interrogated over the matter. He denied all the allegations.
HEDA said in its statement on Sunday that Mr Adoke’s allegations were injurious and malicious against it and its leading officials.
It recalled that it authored the petition sent to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), “which spurred the investigation that led to the prosecution of persons and entities amongst which is Adoke”.
Further denying Mr Adoke’s allegations in its suit, the group said “the process of covering up dirty tracks, suspects in the high profile case resorted to blackmail and arm-twisting tactics targeting HEDA, which is leading the global campaign, and its leaders.”
It said attempts were being made “to subvert the wheel of justice on the ongoing criminal trial of parties connected with the OPL 245 settlement agreement in Italy and Nigeria.”
It said Mr Adoke was aware that HEDA did not forge the email in question “or the interview between the former AGF and Ms. Carlamaria and neither did he collude with investigators and public prosecutors in Milan, Italy and Nigeria with the unlawful aim of procuring false documentary evidence for use in subverting the wheel of justice.”
The group said it was alarmed to receive several telephone calls and messages from his friends, professional colleagues, associates and well-wishers on the subject of the statements credited to Mr Adoke by describing it and its official as committing the offence of forgery.
According to the statement, friends and partners of the HEDA chairman, Suraju Olanrewaju, “were shocked by the allegations of Adoke in the statements, whom they had hitherto regarded to be an advocate of good governance.”
“As a matter of fact, some of my friends could not fathom how I could engage in activities causing embarrassment to the organisation,” Mr Suraju was quoted as saying.
HEDA insisted that “since the time of the publication, other well-meaning persons and organisations both locally and international have written to Adoke demanding that he should withdraw his false publication and tender an apology but he has blatantly refused.”
Mr Adegoke said on April 1, 2021, Mr Suraju was invited by officials of the Nigerian Police (IGP Monitoring Unit) and confronted with a handwritten statement of Mr Adoke where “he specifically named him as the person who forged the email and the telephone interview alleged to have occurred between Ms. Carlamaria Rumor and the Adoke.
“Suraju was grilled by the police for upwards of about nine hours and still being investigated on the false allegations of Adoke till date.”
He said the news of Mr Suraju’s arrest and detention was circulated in all mainstream and online news media, wherein he was maligned and utterly embarrassed on account of the malicious publications.
HEDA said “the dust of lies peddled against the organisation has cast immeasurable aspersion on the reputation group and the standing of its leaders in the eyes of right-thinking members of society.”
Among its prayers, HEDA sought an order compelling Mr Adoke to immediately withdraw the said publication and statements published worldwide on various national daily newspapers, mainstream and online news media and tender an unreserved apology in two national daily newspapers circulating all over the federation.
It also asked the court to compel Mr Adoke to pay damages to the claimant in the sum of N100 million “as compensation for the reputation of the claimant that the defendant has put on the line maliciously.”
The group said at trial, it would rely on “the publication of the United Kingdom Anti-Graft Group, Corner House of 25th April, 2021 and HEDA’s publication of 27th April, 2021 respectively requesting a retraction by the defendant of his publication as published by several news outlets.”
The e-mail which Mr Adoke alleged was forged was tendered as a piece of evidence in the trial of oil giants, Eni and Shell.
Both Eni and Shell were, however, acquitted in March 2021.
Mr Adoke had complained to the police through his petition dated February 5, 2021, after the Milan court accepted the evidence sourced from U.S. banking giant JP Morgan as part of the Malabu OPL 245 corruption trial.
The OPL245 oil block, regarded as one of Africa’s richest, was controversially awarded to Malabu in 1998 by the then petroleum minister, Dan Etete, without making due payments for it to the Nigerian government.
Mr Etete owned 20 per cent of the block through a fictional character, Kwekwu Amafegha.
In its attempt to resolve a back-and-forth intense battle over the ownership of the highly resourceful block, former President Goodluck Jonathan administration in which Mr Adoke was the AGF, authorised the sale of the OPL 245 block in 2011.
Under the deal sanctioned by the Jonathan administration with the support of some of his then cabinet members, the block was controversially sold to oil giants, Shell and ENI, in 2011.
But the about $1.1 billion paid by the oil giants into an escrow account controlled by the Nigerian government ended up in Mr Etete’s accounts.
Milan prosecutors alleged that the oil giants and their executives involved in the Malabu deal knew that the $1.1 billion they deposited into the Nigerian government’s escrow account would be disbursed as bribes.
They alleged that from the accounts controlled by Mr Etete, about $520 million translating into half of the $1.1billion, went to accounts of companies controlled by Aliyu Abubakar, popularly known in Nigeria as the owner of AA Oil.
Investigators alleged that Mr Abubakar fronted for top officials of the Mr Jonathan administration as well of officials of Shell and ENI. The two firms and their executives were, however, recently exonerated of any wrongdoing concerning the Malabu deal.
The email evidence tendered by the prosecution and accepted by the Milan court despite the opposition by the defence during trial, tried to link Mr Adoke with Mr Abubakar.
Prosecutors claimed that Mr Adoke sent instructions about the transfer of OPL245 1.1$ billion payment by Eni and Shell from the email address of a certain A Group Properties, said to be owned by Mr. Abubakar.
But Mr Adoke along with Mr Aliyu are still standing trial in connection with the Malabu deal in Nigeria.
Mr Adoke, in his petition to the police, denied authoring the email as alleged.
He expressed shock at what he called the “unlawful design” and “collusion” with the prosecutors in Milan, which resulted in the “forgery” of the evidence.
He said he was no longer in office as the AGF when the email was allegedly sent on June 21, 2011 “owing to the dissolution of the Federal Executive Council” by then President Jonathan.
Mr Adoke said he was only re-appointed into office on July 2, 2011, adding that within the period the email was allegedly sent, he was abroad and never had any dealings with official matters of the state.
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