MINISTER of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga Ashiru, has debunked allegation by an online publication that he has been implicated in ongoing investigations over a banking scandal concerning sale of several Nigerian Embassy properties in Washington, United States.
The Acting Director (Public Communication) and Spokesperson,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ogbole Amedu-Ode, in a statement made available to The Guardian, explained that the attention of the minister has been drawn to the report and he has, therefore, considered it “necessary that the story, like previous ones, be exposed for the lies it seeks to push to readers.”
The ministry described the attempt by authors of the story to involve the incumbent minister in a matter that took place years before he assumed office, as “nothing but cheap blackmail that cannot fly.”
The statement asserted that any unbiased reader of the story would find no evidence in support of the alleged complicity of Ashiru, as the headline of the online publication would suggest.
The statement reads: “First, the story of alleged sale of several Embassy properties in Washington emerged in 2004. This is eight years and a succession of five foreign ministers long before the incumbent foreign minister assumed office in July 2011.
“Second, had the authors of this malicious article cared to exercise due diligence and circumspection, they would have noted that this matter is not only in court, which makes any serious comment on it sub judice, but it is also a subject of ongoing investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes and prosecution by the Federal Ministry of Justice.”
It then wondered how the incumbent minister could be accused of cover up on an issue that is being addressed by the Federal Government through its competent agencies and the courts.
“The latest write up seems to have come after the Embassy in Washington and the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs had, on several occasions, successfully debunked the persistent stories in the medium on the so-called money laundering activities in which you claimed, without proof or basis, that the embassy had been implicated.
“The ministry wonders what the next story would be since there is a deliberate attempt to denigrate and rubbish the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, while also tarnishing the good name, record and excellent performance of the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs,” the statement indicated.
The ministry also asserted that Nigeria’s Mission in Washington had “stated times and again that it never operated any accounts with Wells Fargo and the Bank of America. Accounts that do not exist could never have been frozen or closed.
“The Vice President of the M & T Bank, Mr. Peter Senica, where the Mission maintains some accounts, has stated that at no time were those accounts ever frozen for alleged money laundering activities, contrary to your unrelenting stories.
“Besides, it needs to be stated, for information, that the Foreign Minister has no control over budgetary allocations and disbursement of funds to Missions abroad. Once the budget has been approved by the National Assembly and signed into law by the President, the power and responsibility to directly remit funds to Missions overseas are vested in the Federal Ministry of Finance,” adding that the ministry and the minister have no control over the funds.