Posted by By Sam Egburonu (Lagos)and Chinedu Offor (Washington DC) on
A judge in the United States has upheld the unprecedented raid on a Congressional office by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).....
A judge in the United States has upheld the unprecedented raid on a Congressional office by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) which may affect the political fortunes of Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
The federal judge ruled that barring searches of lawmakers' offices would turn Capitol Hill into "a taxpayer subsidised sanctuary for crime."
Although the FBI has cleared Atiku of any wrong doing, Aso Rock is keen on the case in the hope that the seized documents may contain information that could implicate Atiku, who is locked in a supremacy battle with President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Abuja has requested American law enforcement officials to keep it informed about the outcome of the probe.
Chief U.S. District Judge, Thomas Hogan, rejected requests from Congressman William Jefferson and other lawmakers that the FBI should return materials seized in the search done overnight from May 20 to 21.
The raid was part of a 17-month bribery investigation of Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, who visited the Potomac, Washington residence of Atiku during his visit to the U.S.
Hogan, in a 28 page ruling, dismissed arguments by Jefferson and a bipartisan group of House leaders that the raid violated the protection against intimidation of elected officials as enshrined in the Constitution
The judge acknowledged the "unprecedented" nature of the case.
But he said the lawmakers' "sweeping" theory of legislative privilege "would have the effect of converting every congressional office into a taxpayer subsidised sanctuary for crime."
A member of Congress is bound by the same laws as ordinary citizens, insisted Hogan, who had approved the FBI's request to conduct the search.
Jefferson had sought the return of several computer hard drives, floppy disks and two boxes of paper documents FBI agents seized during the raid of his Rayburn Building office that lasted 18 hours.
Hogan stated that the Justice Department can retake custody of the materials, which President George Bush ordered held by the solicitor general until Congress and the FBI could agree procedure for future raids on congressional offices.
Jefferson's lawyer, Robert Trout, said he is not surprised by the ruling and would appeal as soon as possible.
He is expected to ask Hogan to stay his ruling to keep the materials away from investigators until an Appeal Court examines the case.
Trout argued: "While a Congressman is not above the law, the executive branch must also follow the law. We appreciate the consideration the judge accorded our motion for the return of the seized property, but we respectfully disagree with his conclusion".
Justice Department Spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said the department is pleased with the ruling and that prosecutors would continue discussion with Congress to devise procedure for future raids.
However, in Abuja, Atikuís Media Consultant, Garba Shehu, stressed that the raid has nothing to do with Atiku.
"These are two different cases. I do not see why the two should be linked. The vice president did not contest the raid on his home in any court. He is not under investigation by the FBI or any U.S. Court", he stated.