Saraki, Magu and Malami
By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
ABUJA—The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has launched fresh investigations into how a large chunk of the N19 billion London-Paris Club loan refund was allegedly diverted under the guise of paying consultants.
Already, President Muhammadu Buhari has been briefed by the anti-corruption agency on its preliminary findings, which established that a huge chunk of the cash was allegedly diverted by the senate president and his aides using some banks and companies to perpetuate the fraud.
The discovery followed an enquiry, which the Presidency had launched into the disbursement of the cash refund meant to enable states clear the backlog of staff salaries and pensions.
However, despite the refunds of the cash to the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, the misery of the workers has continued unabated as indications emerged that key officials used their positions to siphon part of the money and stash it at home and abroad.
A top source in EFCC confirmed that it had established a prima facie evidence of money laundering against no fewer than seven persons and entities and will move shortly to press charges against them.
The source revealed that those under probe are a former bank managing director, a company, an accounts relationship manager and four men said to be aides to the senate president.
The EFCC claimed the former bank MD “is alleged to have received the sum of N3.5 billion into his company’s account from the NGF through Account number 0005892453 domiciled in a new generation bank.
“Investigation revealed that the senate president, at a meeting introduced two men (names withheld) to the relationship manager, one of whom later introduced the former bank chief to the manager.
“That former bank MD operates an account with the said bank, which was up till December 13 a business account.
“That a lady (names withheld), who is a top banking official stated in a letter dated December 13 , 2016 , that the ex-bank chief requested a transfer of Melrose General Services Company account from Business Account to a Private Banking Group Platform as he was expecting huge funds into the account.
“Subsequently, on December 14, the sum of N3.5 billion was lodged into a company’s account number 0005892453 domiciled in the said bank from Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).
“That, thereafter, two men (names withheld) were introduced to the bank as representatives of the controversal company by the former bank MD to enable them make cash withdrawals from the account.
“That two men (names withheld) made cash withdrawals of various tranches of N5 million and N10 million.
“Based on the foregoing findings, it is clear that the former bank MD, also of the said company and his company were used to help divert proceeds of unlawful activities under the guise of payment for contractual obligations with the Nigerian Governors Forum ( NGF).
“Suffice to say that all payments received by Melrose General Services Company from the NGF have hitherto been diverted directly via cash withdrawals and indirectly through transfers by the four men earlier mentioned, who are aides of the senate president.
“Furthermore, other payments from the company have also been linked to companies that the senate president has interest in and carry out transactions with.
N3.5bn traced to Dubai jeweller
“This includes the sum of $183,000 which was transferred to Bhaska Devji Jewellers, Dubai, a company the senate president had repeatedly made payments to.”
“Also, the sum of N200 million was transferred to another company that subsequently transferred the sum of N170 million to Xtract Energy Services Limited, a company that routinely made deposits into the senator‘s domiciliary account with the said new generation bank.
“A prima facie case of conspiracy to retain the proceeds of unlawful activities and money laundering contrary to Sections 15(3) and 18(9) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2004 can be established against the aforementioned suspects.”
“Additionally, investigation into their personal accounts is ongoing.”
No illegality in cash refunds —NGF
The development comes a week after the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, NGF, had made it clear
that there was no illegality relating to the disbursement of the London-Parish loan refunds to the respective states.
In a widely circulated document entitled, “London-Parish clubs loan refunds: Our Story, by the NGF,” the forum denied the alleged diversion of the cash, and claimed that whatever was set aside was a percentage due the myriads of consultants engaged by the states to work out their entitlements.”
Head of Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, who signed the statement, said President Muhammadu Buhari would not have approved the release of the second tranche of the refunds to states if the first tranche was not transparently disbursed.
The NGF said: “It is important to state that in approving the repayment, due process was diligently followed and each and every approving authority, including the Federal Ministry of Finance, the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, the Central Bank of Nigeria and the office of the Auditor General of the Federation as well as the National Assembly were duly informed from the beginning to the end of all the transactions.
“Nothing illegal was done and no money was paid into the personal account of any governor, legislator or top officials at any of the levels and arms of government in the country.”
The NGF also clear the air on the involvement of many consultant in the process of determining what accrues to each state and what was due to them in the end, pointing out that there was no attempt whatsoever to cheat.
“Indeed, a number of consultants were saddled with the task of verifying the amounts due to each of the states. These consultants were recruited by the respective states but were eventually collapsed into a consortium of only a few, even though the others who did not make it to the final group were reimbursed according to their input.
“It may interest the readers that many more consultants throughout the country are still insisting that they did work on this same Paris-London Clubs repayments since a decade ago and that they are entitled to some compensation as well.
“Many of them had actually and verifiably done some work in the past and negotiated a fee of between 10 per cent and 30 per cent, with the different states that engaged them. It was therefore immoral and impossible to deny each their due, provided their input is verified and justified
“It should be noted that if the Federal Government under the watch of President Buhari had found anything corrupt, illegal and unpatriotic about the payment or the utilization of the first tranche of the Paris-London Clubs Fund repayment.
“Note also most importantly at this juncture that every decision that was taken in respect of all the transactions was with the full consent and blessing of the 36 governors.
“The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) itself had issued a release exculpating all the governors, saying it was investigating the matter further.