|OTEDOLA AND HIS MAN|
Farouk Lawan’s lawyers have petitioned the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, on the need to thoroughly investigate the bribery allegation leveled against their client by billionaire oil magnate Femi Otedola.
Otedola has accused Lawan, former chairman of the House Ad-Hoc Committee on fuel subsidy probe, of demanding $3m bribe to ensure the removal of his companies from the list of indicted firms in the N1.7 trillion fuel subsidy scandal.
But in two petitions dated June 22 and signed by four lawyers - Mike Ozek home, Rickey Tarfa, Isreal Olorundare and Sam Ologunorisa - Lawan faulted some of the statements credited to Otedola, including where, how and when $500,000 was collected in two tranches at the businessman’s insistence, according to him.
Describing stories making the rounds about the lawmaker’s ordeal as “funny, phony, insidious and invidious “, the lawyers stated that Lawan never visited Otedola’s house in Lagos to collect $500,000. Neither did he at any time hide the money “in his pocket, and the leftover inside his cap” as was alleged in a publication, they said.
Tarfa had, in a four-page petition, raised issues concerning the infringement on Lawan’s rights for his 48 hours detention without trial while he was offered what he described as “onerous conditions” for bail.
The lawyers challenged the police chief to investigate the “circumstances whereby the complainant in this instance is now being made an accused and being hounded into detention while the culprit is left to roam the streets and continue to grant interviews and make damaging comments against our client while the police look the other way”.
Giving a blow-by-blow account of what transpired between his client and Otedola, Ozekhome said, out of desperation to ensure that his companies were not indicted in the probe, visited Lawan in his hotel room in Abuja and attempted to influence the report by offering him $250,000 on April 21.
He said the money and another $250,000 that was handed over to Lawan at Otedola’s Aso Drive home on April 22, were deposited with the Chairman of the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes on April 24.
Claiming that Lawan made a verbal report of the attempted bribery to the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on April 20, without any specific reference to Otedola, Ozekhome said the EFCC chairman instructed the Director of Operations to be on “standby in case Mr. Otedola calls again”.
The nine-page petition titled “Honourable Farouk Lawan and Mr. Femi Otedola: When the complainant becomes the suspect”, with many annexures, read in part: “Our client briefed us that he never solicited from Mr. Femi Otedola the sum of Three Million US Dollars ($3, 000, 000, 00) or any other sum at all, as bribe, to enable his oil firms to be left off those indicted.
''The truth is that contrary to the various false publications in the press, which appear to swing the mood of the public against our client, our client maintains that whilst the report of the Committee had been compiled, written and presented before the House and he was putting finishing touches to its formal debate in his hotel room at Protea Hotel, Apo, Abuja (where he relocated from his house to escape the unbearable pressure mounted on him by oil marketers, including Mr. Femi Otedola, he was surprised when Mr. Femi Otedola surfaced in the hotel on Saturday, 21 April, 2012 and called his room number.
“When our client let him in, he brought out a bundle of documents which he claimed showed that one of his oil companies, Zenon Oil, already indicted in the report, did not participate in the fuel subsidy scam. Our client states that, at this time, both Zenon Oil and AP Petroleum (Forte Oil) had been both indicted, based on available evidence. Mr. Femi Otedola claimed that he was already aware of this indictment hence he decided to personally bring documents to convince our client that was not the case.
“Our client collected the documents. As Mr. Otedola was about to leave, he handed over the sum of $250,000 US dollars to our client, which he said was to ensure that his companies were removed from the list of indicted companies. This was the evening of Monday, the 23rd of April, a few days before the report was to be debated in the House, but few days after the final report had actually been laid before the House on the 17th of April, 2012. Our client informed us that he had collected the money to display as exhibit that the committee had been under severe pressure and subtle threat to compromise its report.
“Our client states that Mr. Otedola then called him severally and even pleaded with him to come to his house at Aso Drive, Abuja, for more of the documents which he claimed to have forgotten to bring to our client’s hotel room at Protea Hotel, Apo, Abuja.
“Our client said he played along by going there to Otedola’s house in the early hours of the 22nd of April, 2012 during which Otedola handed over more documents and a further sum of $250,000. Our client states that Mr. Otedola further offered to make a total of $3millon US dollars.
“As soon as he had collected the total sum of $500,000 US dollars, our client immediately wrote a letter at 3.47am on 24th of April, 2012 to the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes with the letter titled “Offer of Monetary Inducement by Femi Otedola to influence Committee Report”. Our client attached the sum $500,000 offered by Mr. Otedola to him with a promise to bring another $2.5million US dollars.”
The lawyers said certain facts can be deduced from Lawan’s detailed narration on circumstances surrounding the case.
They include, among others, the fact that Otedola initiated the move through his persistent phone calls, text messages and subtle threats ; that no security agency be it SSS or any other was ever involved in the so-called sting operation against Lawan; that a sting operation does not take the sting operator nearly two months before telling the press, rather than the police or other security agencies, of his alleged sting operation; and that it was Lawan who cried out to the public through the media and the relevant committee in the House about the attempt by oil marketers to influence the report and that it was this that made the police to contact him where letters were exchanged.
The lawyers said Lawan “never placed any money under his cap as he wore no cap on the two occasions he met with Otedola, adding that he remains innocent of any crime and is willing “to have a face-to-face confrontation with Mr. Otedola before you (the IG) in the course of investigation of this matter”.
On the controversial video of the sting operation, the lawyers, challenged the “SSS, the police, Mr. Otedola or any other person for that matter, to produce for public viewing the video or film and call logs of the conversation between him and Mr. Otedola, unedited and undoctored, and it will be seen that the entire story sold to the public and the police by Mr. Otedola is nothing but an after thought, total fabrication and a diet of deliberate falsehood and half truths.”
He implored the IG to “go beyond the current hysteria, manipulated by a section of the media sympathetic to Mr. Otedola, to unearth the correct facts of this saga in such a way that the ends of justice will be met and in such a way that the complainant is not turned to the accused, and the hunter is not made to become the hunted.”
They urged the police chief to do everything within his power to ensure that the right culprit in the saga will eventually be put in the dock and face the full wrath of the law.
A senior police officer, who spoke last night, said: “We have been able to establish that it was a sting operation with the involvement of the SSS. As a matter of fact, the SSS has made the video clip and the details available to us.
“Without taking sides and from the evidence at our disposal so far, it will be wrong for anyone to allege that Otedola might have acted on his own. The SSS was involved and it has forwarded all relevant documents to us.
“On the way the bribe was offered, Lawan admitted during interaction with the police that he got the bribe sum both at home and in a hotel. This was the same thing that Otedola told us.
“It is new for Lawan to claim that he collected money but not bribe sum. He said he informed the EFCC chairman without mentioning the giver. Why didn’t he write the EFCC formally instead of recourse to verbal mention? This position by his lawyers is irreconcilable with our investigation.
“If any bribe suspect is playing along with the giver, he should have reported to a law enforcement agency with the evidence. In this instance, Lawan said he informed the Chairman of the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Mr. Adam Jagaba, who is not a law enforcer.
“Even at that, Jagaba has denied receiving any bribe sum from Lawan. And we have been asking Jagaba to report for interaction and he has been evasive. So, the question is: Who did he report to or which law enforcement agency did he inform that he was playing along with the bribe giver, Otedola.
“These are gaps in Lawan’s testimony that we have been investigating. That is why we have invited Jagaba.”
The source denied infringement on the rights of Lawan.
The source added: “Go to Lawan, he will admit that we treated him with courtesy and honour, we did not violate his rights in any manner. We also detained and granted him bail within the ambit of the law.”-THE NATION ONLINE