BY SONI DANIEL

 


ABUJA — Indications emerged, yesterday, that the difficulty in retrieving the $620,000 bribe money allegedly given to the former chairman of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee on subsidy administration, Mr. Farouk Lawan, by oil marketer, Femi Otedola, may weaken the case.

Although the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation has already given its nod to the trial of Farouk Lawan and his clerk, Boniface Emenalo, it was gathered that the inability of the police to recover the $620,000 bribe sum from the suspects, which they initially claimed was captured in a ‘sting operation’, has caused some disquiet in government circles.

Otedola and Farouk

Despite the setback, the Federal Government is going ahead with the trial. There was, however, confusion yesterday on the fate of the bribe-giver, Femi Otedola.

While the government plans to use the oil company executive as prosecution witness, lawyers and anti-corruption groups are insisting that the three men should be prosecuted in accordance with the Constitution.

Competent sources said the police had depended solely on the State Security Service ‘sting operation’ as a major evidence to nail the suspects but the non-retrieval of the said amount before the commencement of trial is said to be weakening the case.It was learnt that after the Special Task Force of the Nigeria Police Force, which investigated the case, could not recover the bribe money, which was allegedly  given under a ‘sting operation’, it had wanted to drop the case against Lawan and Emenalo but pressure was mounted in favour of prosecution.

A reliable source said, “investigation could not establish any sting operation and that is why the SSS, which was said to have been around when the money was handed over to Farouk, has not said anything on the matter till date.

“The case is apparently flat in the absence of the bribe sum and the government is weighing various options before Farouk returns to the country this week.”

However, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Abubakar Malami, said yesterday that the absence of the bribe sum was an indication that the government was either not ready to prove a strong case against the suspects or that someone somewhere was trying to undermine the quality of the prosecution.

“The non-presentation of the bribe sum may weaken prosecution but it does not entirely stop prosecution since there is no contention over the giving and taking of the money. It is clear from all that has been said that money actually changed hands.

Malami told Vanguard that although the prosecution did not need the bride money to start prosecuting the suspects, both the bribe-giver and the receivers must be prosecuted by the government.

“Under the Nigerian law, it is not fair to try Lawan and leave Otedola,” Malami said.

But a group, Anti-Corruption Network, led by the former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dino Melaye, has described the attempt by the government to shield Otedola from prosecution as unacceptable, saying that his group will mobilise Nigerians to protest against what he called a ‘fallacious move’.

Melaye said, “the three men-Lawan, Otedola and Emenalo should be put on trial if the government has evidence that they breached the law and nothing else.”

He also kicked against the appointment of Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, as the government prosecutor, describing his choice as a conflict of interest, having defended the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and a senior head of the National Judicial Institute over corruption charges.

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