"Andy Uba: My case in US was civil, not criminal"

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    Andy Uba accuses opponents of ignoring facts of settlement
    By Max Amuchie
    Sunday, November 12, 2006
    THISDAY


    Former Senior Special Assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo on Domestic Affairs, Dr. Andy Uba, has described attempts to criminalise him on the basis of a civil matter he had in the United States as a politically motivated campaign that would fail because he has nothing to hide.

    Uba, who spoke with THISDAY in Abuja at the weekend, said he was shocked by what he described as a selective manipulation of court papers to create the erroneous impression that he was indicted for money laundering when. He argued that nothing could be farther from the truth.

    His claim has however being confirmed by office of the United States attorney g whose official said the matter involving Uba was a civil case.

    Also, on her part, Ms Loretta Mabinton, the woman mentioned along with Uba in the civil case which has generated media attention in the last one week, has threatened to seek legal redress over reports linking her with money laundering.

    In media reports last week, Uba was alleged to have smuggled $170,000 cash into the US on September 22, 2003 through Nigeria's presidential jet while he (Uba) accompanied President Obasanjo to New York to attend a meeting of the United Nations.

    Mrs. Leslie Westphal, Assistant US Attorney who handled the case in the district of Oregon said it was a civil case.

    She wrote: “Yes, this case (United States vs Emmanuel Uba and Loretta Mabinton) was settled. It was a civil asset forfeiture case in which large amount of currency was brought into the United States without reporting the currency at the time Mr. Uba entered the United States.”

    The money was said to have been illegally deposited in tranches at various banks in Portland, Oregon with Ms. Loretta Mabinton, Uba’s friend, allegedly acting as a front.

    According to Uba, the money came from estacodes he was entitled to during Obasanjo’s first term and he gave part of it to Loretta Mabinton in two instalments to buy her a car in Oregon because of the tax-free regime in the state.

    He said it is true that there was suspicion that he brought in the money in bulk but that he did not as the settlement agreement clearly states that the original affidavit deposed by the investigating officer had many factual inaccuracies.

    According to Uba, the issue had been reported in a manner similar to going to court and reporting claims by plaintiffs while keeping quiet about the judgement which in his case is the settlement agreement.

    He said those who are after him will have to do a lot more work as he has nothing to hide and that working closely with President Obasanjo has ensure that he did not take part in any criminal activity.

    In his explanation to THISDAY, Uba said the case being reported is true to the extent that he forfeited some money but he added that in all the media reports on the issue, none has published the Settlement Agreement "because doing that would have put paid to this nonsense since everybody will know I have done nothing wrong."

    In the Settlement Agreement arrived at on August 31 this year, enforced on September 2, and signed by Leslie J. Westphal, Assistant US Attorney for the US Government and Douglas Stringer for Uba and Mabinton, it was stated that "the allegations in the complaint in this matter do not allege the funds described therein are from an illegal source or were intended for an illegal purpose."

    Trouble began for Uba on September 22, 2003 when he brought the sum of $170,000 into the United States via a presidential plane without declaring it to Customs.

    According to the report, Uba at the point of entry failed to report the fund ($170,000) to US Customs and Border Protection and "a portion of the money was later used to purchase a Mercedes Benz Car for Uba at $91,262.50 (about N12.9 million)."

    Obasanjo’s Temperance Farm, Otta, Ogun State, is also alleged to be under investigation over "$45,487.28 (about N6.5 million) from the laundered cash which was used to buy assorted farm equipment that were shipped to Obasanjo farms in Ota".

    The vehicle and funds from Mabinton’s bank account were administratively seized on the orders of a US District Court of Oregon on June 12, 2006 "being proceeds of bulk cash smuggling, violations of currency and monetary instrument reporting requirements, currency transaction reporting requirements and money laundering".

    On April 4, 2006, Uba and Mabinton’s lawyer, Stringer filed a "verified statement of Interest in Defendant Property".

    Another "Answer to Complaint, Affirmative Defences and Counterclaim against the United States of America" was filed by Uba and Mabinton on April 24, 2006.

    On August 31, 2006, a move was made by the duo to settle the matter out of court. On September 27, 2006 Judge Marsh ordered that:

    •"Based upon the Settlement Agreement filed on August 31, 2006 between the United States and claimants, Loretta Mabinton and Emmanuel Uba, and upon the records and files in this action; It is ordered that this court has subject matter jurisdiction in this action and the sub res defendant, in rem, $26,000 in United States currency, is forfeited to the United States of America, free and clear of the claims of any and all persons, including Loretta Mabinton and Emmanuel Uba.

    "The United States Customs and Border Protection is directed to immediately seize and transfer the custody and possession of the sub res defendant, in rem, $26,000 in United States currency, to the secretary of Treasury of the United States for disposition in accordance with applicable statutes and regulations and provisions of this judgment."

    All these papers, among others, according to Uba, are just evidence that the issue is not as big as it is being made to appear for what he said must be "political reasons."

    Uba, who said he remained unperturbed, gave THISDAY a copy of Settlement Agreement reached on August 31, 2006 between Leslie Westphal, assistant United States attorney and Douglas Stringer, attorney for both himself and Mabinton where it was decided that:

    •This agreement has no effect on any claims that any other department or agency of the United States may have against Loretta Mabinton and Emmanuel Uba.

    • Loretta Mabinton and Emmanuel Uba agree to pay $26,000 by a cashier's check made payable to the United States Department of Treasury.

    •Loretta Mabinton and Emmanuel Uba agree that $26,000 shall be substituted as the defendant res in this matter, and they agree to forfeit to the United States all of their right, title and interest in the $26,000.

    •Upon payment of the $26,000, the United States shall release the defendant vehicle to Loretta Mabinton or Emmanuel Uba or any representative they so designate in writing, as is. Where is, and shall release all claims to defendant vehicle.

    •The parties stipulate that all the allegations in the complaint in this matter do not allege the funds described therein are from illegal source or were intended for an illegal purpose.

    •The parties agree that The Affidavit of Special Agent Kehoe, dated November 6, 2003, contains a factual inaccuracy in paragraph 14. Paragraph 14 states that Ms. Mabinton did not report all currency upon entering the United States on August 31 and October 26, 2003. Subsequent investigation determined that Ms. Mabinton did properly declare all currency on those occasions.

    •Claimants Uba and Mabinton deny that they engaged in any unlawful conduct in connection with this matter, and specifically deny any involvement or participation in a conspiracy to engage in bulk currency smuggling or in any advance fee fraud scheme.

    •All parties agree and stipulate that by entering into this Settlement Agreement no party admits any civil or criminal liability of any kind.

    • Loretta Mabinton and Emmanuel Uba hereby agree to release and to hold the United States and any agents, servants, and employees of the United States acting in their individual or official capacities, harmless from any claim, whether presently or hereinafter known, made by himself/herself arising from and on account of the seizure of the defendant vehicle and all funds involved in this case.

    •The parties will each bear their own costs and their own attorney's fees in this matter, including shipping costs, bank fees, legal costs and storage fees.

    • Loretta Mabinton and Emmanuel Uba knowingly and voluntarily waive all constitutional, legal and equitable claims to the forfeiture of the $26, 000 in United States currency including any claim under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution

    • Further, all persons signing this agreement have read and understand each and every provision herein. This Settlement Agreement is entered into freely and voluntarily.

    •By signing this Settlement Agreement the parties merely intend to settle the claims made in this litigation. Each person signing this Settlement Agreement is fully authorised to do so, whether on his or her own behalf or as representative for or on behalf of any other party or claimant herein.

    • This Court shall retain jurisdiction in this case for the purpose of enforcing the terms of agreement.

    While Uba did not dispute the fact of the case, he argued that there is nothing in the court papers that indict him for any criminal offence. "I fail to see what all the newspaper reports are meant to achieve. The civil proceeding took its course and was amicably resolved on our terms."

    Meanwhile, his friend Mabinton has threatened to seek legal redress against some media houses over the reports linking her with money laundering.

    She said the distortion of facts which she argued were calculated to destroy Andy Uba politically had done irreparable damage to her own reputation.

    In a statement made available to THISDAY, Mabinton said: "Money laundering is a serious criminal offence in the United States, and persons convicted of money laundering go to jail. There was not, and has never been any allegation of money laundering filed against me, or to the best of my knowledge, against Andy Uba.

    "I was involved in a civil matter with the government in the United States District Court in Oregon, and reached a mutually satisfactory settlement with the government."

    Mabinton noted that the case had to do with "a civil proceeding between the United States and one Mercedes Benz which was resolved by a settlement agreement pursuant to which the Mercedes Benz was returned to the claimants.

    "I am not a politician, and have never been employed by the Nigerian government. No complaint has ever been filed against me for any criminal offence. The distortion of facts calculated to damage Andy Uba politically has caused irreparable injury to my reputation."

    Mabinton's lawyer also made available to THISDAY a copy of a letter dated January 31, 2005 from the US Customs and Border Protection titled "Loretta Mabinton refund with interest" as a proof that the matter could not have been a criminal offence since she was paid interest on the seized money.

    Written by Megan Fishel, officer in charge of Fines, Penalties and Forfeiture, and addressed to Mabinton's lawyer, Samuel C. Kauffman, the letter agreed that "the interest earned on $121,161.44 in the Treasury Forfeiture Fund pursuant to 31 USC 9703 (d) will be returned from the date of deposit 12/19/03 until the date the refund was processed on 1/13/05.

    "Your client, Ms Mabinton, if she chooses, may, but is not required to sign the hold harmless agreement previously provided to you."
     

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