N255m cars: FirstBank, Coscharis, Customs state cases at hearing

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By Our Reporters

ABUJA—IT was another round of startling revelations yesterday as the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation continued the suspended investigative hearing into an alleged purchase of two armoured BMW cars at N255 million by the Minister of Aviation, Princess  Stella Oduah.

Despite the fact that the minister was absent at the hearing, the Nigeria Customs Service, NSC, First Bank PLC and Coscharis made presentations on their involvement in the purchase of the cars.

According to Committee’s Chairperson, Rep Nkeiruka Onyejeocha “tomorrow (today), is sacrosanct, the minister must appear by 10.am.

The minister’s letter, requesting to appear by noon was ignored by the committee.

Lagos N10m waiver used to clear armoured cars — Customs

Stakeholders were, however, startled when the Deputy Comptroller-General  of Customs, DCG, Mannasseh Daniel Jatau, who represented the Customs C-G, Abdulahi Dikko said a N10 million waiver given to Lagos State Government as waiver to purchase vehicles for Eko 2012 Sports Festival was used to clear the cars.

Jatau said “the N10 million import duty payable on the 300 vehicles meant for Eko 2012 festival was used to clear the armoured cars.”

He explained that since the waiver was still effective the Customs had no choice than to allow the cars clear from the ports.

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Jatau also noted that the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, endorsed the clearance of the armoured cars.

At this point, Rep Zakari Mohammed asked the DC-G to explain the procedure for such a waiver and the exact number of vehicles cleared by the Customs.

Responding Jatau said “the armoured vehicles were cleared because there was an authorisation letter from the Minister of Finance.”

Asked whether such a waiver was transferable, Jatau said, “to the best of my knowledge it is not transferrable and the total vehicles were 300 units.”

Rep Ahmed Ali queried Jatau further whether it is possible to use such an exemption for another purpose other than what it was meant for as in the case of NCAA.

Rep Jerry Manwe also demanded for evidence to show that such a waiver was granted by the Minister of Finance.

Jatau replied, saying “among the 300 vehicles only three were armoured cars and whether another beneficiary enjoyed the waiver I cannot tell you that because we are not magicians.

“At the clearance point, all the requirements of the law were met and we are under the Ministry of Finance. If you give us till tomorrow, (today) we will provide the evidence you demanded for.”

But a copy of the letter authorising the Customs was eventually presented which said “I am directed to refer to your letter dated June 23, 2012, in the above subject matter and to convey the approval of Mr. President and Commander-in-Chief to the Lagos State Government for the waiver of Import Duty, Value Added Tax, (VAT, ETLS, CISS, and other port charges in respect of the importation of 300 units of BMW, Ford, Land Rover, Range Rover, Lexus, Mercedes, Escalade, Jaguar and buses (Petrol/Diesel) for use during the 18th National Sports Festival (EKO 2012) to be imported through Messrs Coscharis Motors Nigeria Limited, as indicated in the duly attached list.”

He further said that but for the waiver, the Customs Service would have generated the sum of N10, 133, 533. He explained that if the Customs Service knew the diversion of beneficiaries before the vehicles left the port, it would have demanded that import duty be paid on them.

The lenders, First Bank of Nigeria in its testimony refuted claims by NCAA that it was not committed to the bank as regards the loan of N643 million for the cars.

Group Head, Retail Services of the bank, Seyi Oyefeso, told the committee that NCAA is committed to the bank having agreed to, and signed all the documents for the loan that was meant to cover 52 units of vehicles which does not include the BMW armoured cars.

In its own evidence, Coscharis Nig Ltd has maintained that due process was followed in the purchase of the cars and that regarding the exemption of duty, the President of the company, Cosmas Maduka, said it had an agreement with the Federal Government to waive import duties on cars it purchases for the government at a given time.

While the committee insisted that the current price of the vehicle shouldn’t have ordinarily exceeded N50 million each, Coscharis outrightly rejected it, saying that could never be the case with BMW B7 series anywhere in the world.

NCAA demanded jerk-up of armoured cars prices — Coscharis

But in a bid to state the fact, Coscharis revealed that the NCAA demanded a jerk up of the prices of the controversial vehicles from what the company had submitted earlier.

According to the Chairman of the company, Mr. Cosmas Maduka “NCAA told us that the initial price is not proper.”

The hearing further revealed that the controversial cars were originally purchased on behalf of the Lagos State Government for the 2012 18th National Sports Festival and later sold to NCAA.

Explaining the controversy, Maduka said that the delay encountered when the company sought clearance from the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, when the demand came made it necessary to sell the cars to NCAA. But the Committee insisted that Coscharis deceived the public and the government by saying that the cars were bought for NCAA when actually they were purchased on behalf of the Lagos State government.

Reps Committee accuses Coscharis of ripping off Nigerians

The committee also accused the company of ripping Nigerians off.

According to the Committee, the change in the prices of the vehicle from the initial amount of N70 million to N127.5 million even when the company had admitted that it got waivers from government not to pay Customs duties on the cars cast aspersion on the company’s position on the prices.

Similarly, the hearing later took a dramatic turn when the committee discovered that the vehicles supplied were of different make and types.

For instance, a member of the committee and spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Zakari Mohammed said that the chassis of one of the vehicles inspected by a delegation from the committee was DW68011. He argued that the number differed from what Coscharis gave in their correspondences with the office of the NSA.

But in a swift response, the company refuted it. It quoted the chasis numbers as 68044 and 68432 respectively. It however promised to send the NSA certificate on the cars to the committee.

Earlier, the company had requested to play a video to demonstrate how exotic the cars were in a bid to justify the prices  but was turned down by the committee.

FAAN procures two bullet proof cars for MD — Sen. Uzodinma

In a related development, as condemnation continues to trail the purchase of two armoured cars by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, for the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, there was a startling revelation yesterday that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, equally procured another two for its Managing Director.

Meantime the Nigeria Meteorological Agency, NIMET and the Accident Investigations & Prevention Bureau, AIPB, have distanced themselves from the controversy surrounding the purchase of armoured vehicles, saying they were not involved in transactions on bullet proof cars.

Director -General of NIMET, Dr. Anthony Anuforom and his counterpart in AIPB, Captain Muhktar Usman, who exonerated their agencies when they appeared before the senate committee on aviation led by its Chairman, Senator Hope Uzodima when they were asked on oath, how many armoured vehicles they bought like their sister agencies within the aviation sector.

Senator Uzodima in an interview, confirmed to newsmen that the Managing Director of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria, Mr. George Uriesi, had confirmed on oath that his agency bought 202 operational vehicles and two bullet-proof cars for the MD.

He said: “Investigation is still on-going and it will not be fair for me to pre-empt the outcome.  FAAN did confirm that among the operational vehicles they purchased, four of them are armoured vehicles, two for the MD and two for the minister.

“We told them to go back and put everything in writing and make  comprehensive statements on all vehicles purchased so until they come back on Monday we cannot rush into conclusion.

“The FAAN MD said they did a funding arrangement with a commercial bank. This investigation will be a very deep one so that at the end of the day, we do a holistic approach and look at how the sector will be repositioned so that all anomalies will be corrected.”

The Senate Committee on Aviation had on Tuesday queried FAAN over the purchase of four bullet-proof cars in the agency’s inventory.

The FAAN MD, George Uriesi told the Uzodinma-led committee that the vehicles included two Lexus limousine cars and two Prado SUVs, adding that the limousines were bought at the cost of N60 million each and not N70 million being insinuated.

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