The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), on Sunday, justified his last year’s approval to some operators in the oil industry to sell five sea vessels holding crude oil and diesel forfeited to the Federal Government.
The statement by Malami’s Special Assistant on Media and Public Relations, Umar Gwandu, was reacting to Saturday PUNCH’s story of how the AGF directed Omoh-Jay Nigeria Ltd to dispose of the crude oil and diesel in four sea vessels through an open bid.
The story which Sahara Reporters published with credit to Saturday PUNCH disclosed that in another approval, the AGF mandated the firm to sell five vessels despite the fact that the firm and its Managing Director, Mr Jerome Itepu, stood trial at the Delta State High Court, Asaba, for allegedly stealing about 12,000 metric tonnes of crude oil loaded in a vessel, MT Akuada a.k.a. MT Kua.
The allegedly stolen crude oil was valued at N384m in 2009.
The auctioneer was to get three per cent of the sale.
But Malami said on Sunday said he committed no infraction by granting the auctioning approval to Omo-Jay and its officials even if they were being prosecuted for alleged theft of crude oil.
His statement read in part, “The issue of interest to the public, of which a serious journalist need to support the general public to know is whether Omoh-Jay being a duly registered company can be denied opportunity to participate in the auction bidding process on a purported account that the company is standing trial (not convicted) by a competent court of the land if indeed as claimed by Sahara reporters, the Company is being criminally tried.
“The position of the law is clear by virtue of Section 36 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) that a person is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. ‘Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until proved guilty’.
“Assuming, without conceding that Omo-Jay is being tried for criminal offence, if indeed any, does that take away the Constitutional presumption of innocence in their eligibility to apply and be considered for auction?”
He added, “If the allegation is that of breach of process and procedures of disposal of assets, Sahara Reporters need to clearly state which processes and procedures were breached.”