Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has asked Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami to use his good offices as a defender of public interest and exercise his powers under Section 174(1) of the Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), to urgently institute and undertake criminal proceedings against Mrs Dame Patience Jonathan over $15 million unexplained wealth frozen in four companies’ accounts.
The organisation asked Malami to take this step within seven days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, failing which SERAP will institute legal proceedings to compel the discharge of constitutional duty in this matter.
The letter dated September 13, 2016 and signed by SERAP Executive Director Adetokunbo Mumuni , argued that, “Mrs Jonathan is a politically exposed person under anticorruption standards. She is also covered under the definition of ‘public officials’ contained in the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.
The letter added that under Article 2 of the Convention, public officials include Mrs Jonathan or any other family members of the former President Goodluck Jonathan, who exercised official duties while he was president.
The letter reads in part, “According to Article 2 “for the purpose of some specific measures contained in chapter II of this Convention, “public official” may mean any person who performs a public function or provides a public service. Thus, Article 2 makes it very clear that any person, such as Mrs Jonathan performing a public function, entrusted with a public task or to whom public functions have been assigned is public officials, regardless of whether they have been elected or appointed, paid or unpaid. In this context, it is the character of the duties performed by Mrs Jonathan while her husband was president that is the overriding consideration as she held a position of trust by virtue of performing public functions or services. In addition, such public duties or services by her are expected to be performed in good faith.”
It continued, “Under article 20 of the convention, this government has an obligation to prosecute intentional illicit enrichment, that is, a significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or her lawful income. The fact that the $15m found in the four accounts belong to Mrs Jonathan raises serious suspicion or at the very least a prima-facie case of unexplained wealth/illicit enrichment, and imposes an obligation on Mrs Jonathan to explain and justify the source(s) of the $15million.”
SERAP said that in the event that she is not able to justify, explain or put forth evidence demonstrating the legitimate origin of the $15million, the Minister should take immediate steps to forfeit the asset under appropriate legal proceedings and to institute criminal prosecution for unexplained wealth in the matter.
SERAP added that similarly, Section 44 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act criminalises unexplained or illicit wealth and allows criminal penalties and forfeiture if in the course of an investigation there are reasonable grounds to believe that a corruption offence has been committed; that is, the failure to explain the origin of the $15m given present or past emoluments, and other relevant circumstances.
“SERAP noted that Mrs Jonathan has admitted that the four accounts belong to her and that she is the sole signatory to these accounts.
The four accounts in which Mrs Jonathan’s $15million was lodged are said to belong to the following companies: Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited, Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Limited, Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited and Globus Integrated Service Limited. Mrs Jonathan was given a platinum card and exclusive access to the accounts.
According to reports, a houseboy, a driver and other domestic workers of a former Special Adviser on Domestic Affairs to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Waripamowei Dudafa, were named as directors.
The body stated that pursuing prosecution in this case would help to provide adequate reparation, which may take the form of restitution, compensation, satisfaction or guarantees of non-repetition to victims of corruption, who were denied their right to an effective remedy.
It also stated that it would also send a clear message that cases of unexplained wealth or illicit enrichment involving politically exposed persons would not go unpunished.
According to SERAP, “The use of the offence of illicit enrichment is necessary to any anticorruption movement, and accepted instrument in the global fight against corruption. It would also enhance the government’s powers to monitor wealth and improve transparency and accountability within the public sector. SERAP considers this as a proportionate and measured response to the pernicious problem of corruption in the country. By combating an official’s unexplained material gains, illicit enrichment offenses make it clear to public officials that if they engage in corrupt conduct they would forfeit illegally acquired wealth and go to prison”