November 19, 2013

N5bn pension scam: Ex-director begs court to reduce bail bond to N100m

*Court fixes Nov 28 for ruling

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA—The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, yesterday, fixed November 28 to decide the merit of an application that was filed before it by former Director of Pension Accounts in the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, OHCSF, Dr. Sani Teidi Shaibu, seeking a variation of his bail conditions.

Teidi was specifically alleged to have connived with a former manager with the defunct Oceanic Bank Plc, Mr. Udusegbe Omoefe Eric, and diverted about N5 billion meant for pensioners across the federation. He is praying the court to collect N100 million and order his release from Kuje Maximum Prison.

22-count charge
The duo are answering to a 22-count criminal charge that was preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

EFCC alleged that the accused persons used nine companies and siphoned pension funds.

It gave names of the companies accused of complicity in the scam as Gozinda Enterprises, Bashinta Nig. Ltd, Haleath Enterprises, Uthatak Nigeria Ltd, Krasiva Nig. Ltd, Badawulu Ventures Limited, Ebunu Attah Investment, Muha Millennium Motors Ltd and Ribaile Petroleum Ltd.

Meantime, it will be recalled that the ex-pension boss was on July 12 granted bail by the high court after he had spent thirty-nine days in detention.

The court had ordered him to deposit the sum of N500 million as well as produce two sureties in like sum.

Trial Justice Ademola Adeniyi had in his ruling, maintained that the sureties must be owners of landed property within the jurisdiction of the court, adding that the title deeds of the property be kept with the deputy chief registrar of the court.

The court equally directed that the accused persons should deposit their travelling documents.
However, four months after, the accused persons are yet to regain their freedom, saying it has been difficult for them to secure a surety capable of fulfilling the bail terms.

Consequently, the accused persons, through their lawyers, Mr. S.I Ameh, SAN, and Mr. Adewale  Adewoke, respectively, yesterday, urged the court to have pity on them and okay their release.

Whereas Teidi is begging the court to reduce his bail bond to N100 million, his co-accused, Eric, on the other hand, told the court that he could only afford N10 million and one surety in like sum.

Though the counsel to the EFCC, Chief Godwin Oblah, SAN, did not oppose their application for variation, he, however, urged the court to impose such conditions that will secure the attendance of the alleged pension thieves to court for their trial.

Justice Adeniyi had on October 23, narrated how associates of the ex-pension director, attempted to secure his release with bogus documents.

According to the Judge, “I suspected that all the documents they brought before me, including the Certificate of Occupancy, C of O, and letter from the Federal Ministry of Land, were forged. Even the valuation report was equally forged.

“Consequently, I promptly directed our investigative research team to go and ascertain the authenticity of the documents only for it to be confirmed that they were all forged. A court bailiff involved in the racket was equally arrested.

“The 2nd accused in the forgery case is directly related to the 1st accused person before me, Teidi. In fact, the car of the man is still in the custody of this court.

“Both the indicted court official and his accomplice have since been arraigned before an Abuja Chief Magistrate Court answering to an allegation of forgery. Even the D.P.O in charge of the court was also implicated in the matter.

“They have all appeared before the Magistrate Court twice. If I hadn’t been a bit cautious, I don’t need to tell you what has happened with some of my colleagues in the past. In the absence of such precaution, the judge will be the first to be queried.

“I don’t have any perfected bail document before me. If he sent an S.O.S to the Chief Judge, he has a right to do so, and I will gladly wait the decision of the CJ. It is not like I have particular interest in this case. I have so many matters to handle and I don’t want anyone to come back and talk or do nonsense.

“I won’t allow anybody to come and stain my name. This is not the only case I have, so what is the big deal about it!
“They had already done everything and presented before the court until I had a hunch and told them to go and cross check the documents. Luckily, the passports were there. At the Ministry of Land, the Minister, confirmed that no such document emanated from there and that nobody by that name was in the Ministry.

“I try to be very careful because I don’t want trouble, but if you give me trouble, I will give you double trouble.  I will do my work as it is supposed to be done. Once the court is satisfied that the bail conditions have been met, the accused persons will be released,” Justice Adeniyi added.

The court, earlier heard how a 12-man panel of investigators of the EFCC were able to unearth how pension funds were being diverted by the accused persons.

A lead investigative officer and accountant with the anti-graft agency, Mr Mustapha Gadanya, in his testimony on the last adjourned date, told the court that it was the office of the Head of Service that sometime in 2010, invited the commission to assist in pensioners’ verification exercise being conducted by the federal government.

He told the court that in the course of the exercise several ghost pensioners were discovered.

Following an observation by counsel to the 1st accused, Mr S.I Ameh, SAN, that the name of the witness was not among those listed by the prosecution, he requested that a copy of his statement be served on the defence counsel to enable an effective cross-examination of the witness.

Sequel to his agitation, the court, ordered the prosecuting counsel, Chief Oblah, SAN, to furnish the accused persons with statements of all the witnesses that will testify in the matter, just as he also directed the defence lawyers to file their statements of defence.

EFCC had earlier revealed how the accused persons used seven Bureau De Change operators and stole pension funds, adding that during the investigation process, one Mohammed Muhamud, owner of Muha Motors, who it said volunteered statements on 16/2/2011 and 31/5/2011, confessed that Dr Shaibu, at various times, used his bank accounts to transfer huge sums of money to another account operated by one Chief Anthony Azewaputa, who EFCC said facilitated the purchase of “Brifina Hotel”, for the 1st accused person.

The agency told the court that the offence which it said ran contrary to sections 1(1) (a), 7(1) (b) (i), 8(a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, 2006 and punishable under sections  1(3), 7(2) (b) (i) of the same Act, was committed between 2009 and 15 March 2010.

More so,  EFCC, alleged that the remanded pension boss, siphoned money from the pensions department and purchased plot B59 Dawaki Extension Layout in Abuja from one Stanley Obioma Iwu, with the intent to disguise the ownership of the proceeds of the illegal transaction, as well as, looted monies and purchased 100 units of Lifetime 32-LCD Television, 100 units of Samsung Refrigerators, 70 units of Samsung 1.5 HP Air-Conditioners, 30 units of Samsung Split unit 1.5 HP Air Conditioners, 15 units of 3HP Package unit Air-Conditioners from Iwu, Chikwado Ezenwoye and Essential Gadgets Ventures.