Nigeria orders fugitive ex-rebel's assets seized

2016-02-20 07:22


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Lagos - A Nigerian court ordered the seizure of fugitive former rebel leader Government "Tompolo" Ekpemupolo's assets after he failed again on Friday to appear on graft charges.

Ekpemupolo, an infamous armed militant in the oil-rich Niger Delta who became a government contractor, faces theft and money laundering charges to the tune of $230m.

He has repeatedly refused to appear before the Federal High Court in Lagos and again failed to meet a Friday ultimatum to turn himself in.

His case is one of many being pursued by President Muhammadu Buhari in his quest to put a stop to endemic graft at a time when the oil-dependent state's coffers are being drained by the plunging price of crude.

"The combined team of the Nigerian police and the military have been combing the creeks and the entire nation for the arrest of the first accused person, but he continues to abscond and conceal himself," prosecution lawyer Festus Keyamo said.

In a bid to force Ekpemupolo out of hiding, the judge ruled that Nigeria's anti-graft agency should seize Ekpemupolo's assets, including a mansion, boat, dockyard, and diving school in the oil-rich Delta State.

Judge Ibrahim Buba adjourned the case until March 22, when he will rule on if the defendants charged alongside Ekpemupolo, including a former head of Nigeria's maritime agency, should be tried independently in his absence.

Ekpemupolo, 47, is accused of theft and money laundering of just over $175m between 2012 and last year.

Last week, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission slapped fresh charges of illegal diversion of 11.9 billion naira ($60m) against him.

Ekpemupolo is a high-profile former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), an armed group that attacked oil and gas facilities in the 2000s.

The Niger Delta unrest disrupted Nigeria's oil exports, sending shock waves through the global oil market until a 2009 amnesty placated the rebels.

Some, including Ekpemupolo, went on to be awarded lucrative government security contracts to protect the oil and gas facilities they once attacked.

But it is alleged such agreements were often used as a front to steal money.

Ekpemupolo's supporters are believed to be behind several attacks on oil pipelines in recent months, prompting fears of fresh unrest in the volatile region if he was arrested.

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