- It is a mudslinging campaign–Saraki
There were indications at the weekend that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has indicted Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, some of his aides and one Robert Mbonu of Melbrose General Services over alleged criminal diversion of N19 billion from the N522bn Paris Club refund released by Federal Government recently.
The Federal Government, it would be recalled, had, in December 2016, approved the sum of N522.74bn for release to 36 states of the federation as part of the reimbursement of the over-deduction on the Paris Club loan from 1995 to 2002.
But of the sum, a controversial sum of N19billion was allegedly diverted.
In an EFCC report already submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari, Bukola Saraki, some of his aides and one Robert Mbonu of Melbrose General Services were allegedly linked to the diversion of the N19billion.
Mbonu is a former Managing Director of Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, the commercial bank owned by the Saraki family which was later liquidated.
Explaining how the diversion allegedly took place, the EFCC report said that after the approval to pay the 36 states the sum N522.74 billion in December 2016, the EFCC, sometimes in January discovered that the loan refunds were illegally routed through the account of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Upon receiving the funds, the NGF, in an alleged connivance with Saraki, began remitting huge sums to private consultants who then laundered about N19bn.
According to the report, apart from the NGF, others under investigation include the Relationship Manager to the Senate President in Access Bank, Kathleen Erhimu.
Some others under probe and identified as Saraki’s aides include Obiora Amobi, Gbenga Makanjuola, Kolawole Shittu and Oladapo Idowu.
The report alleges that sometimes in December, Saraki introduced the ex-bank MD, Mbonu, to Erhimu.
Others at the meeting were Saraki’s aforementioned aides.
It added that sequel to the meeting, the sum of N3.5bn was lodged into Melrose General Services Company account number 0005892453, domiciled in Access Bank from the Nigeria Governors Forum on December 14.
The report stated that two of Saraki’s aides, Obiora Amobi and Gbenga Makanjuola, were introduced to Access Bank as representatives of Melrose General Services Limited by Mbonu to enable them to make cash withdrawals from the account.
It added that Amobi and Makanjuola made cash withdrawals in various tranches of N5m and N10m.
The report reads in part, “Based on the foregoing findings, it is clear that Robert Mbonu, the Managing Director of Melrose General Services Company and his company were used to help divert proceeds of unlawful activities under the guise of payment for contractual obligations with the Nigeria Governors Forum.
“Suffice to apprise 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 Gbenga Peter Makanjuola, Kolawole Shittu and Oladapo Joseph Idowu, who are principal aides to the Senate President.
“Furthermore, other payments from Melrose General Services Company have also been linked to companies that Dr. Bukola Saraki has interest in and carries out transactions with.
“This includes the sum of $183,000, which was transferred to Bhaska Devji Jewellers, Dubai, a company Dr. Bukola Saraki had repeatedly made payments to.
“Also, the sum of N200m was transferred to Wasp Networks Limited that subsequently transferred the sum of N170m to Xtract Energy Services Limited, a company that routinely made deposits into Dr. Saraki’s Access Bank US Dollar Domiciliary account.”
The report concludes that 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, could be established against the aforementioned suspects.
“Additionally, investigation into their personal accounts is ongoing,” it adds.
In a riposte, the Office of the Senate President however dismissed the said EFCC’s report as a mudslinging campaign.
The statement which was sent to Bar and Bench Watch on Sunday night reads: “Our attention has been drawn to the circulation of a report the media said to have been leaked by the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu to some journalists where he made several allegations against Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, as it concerns the payment of the Paris Club Fund refund to the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).
“Let us first state that these allegations are not new.
“The EFCC had from the onset of its investigation into the Paris Club refund made attempts to drag in the name of Dr. Saraki and we have promptly denied any such involvement of the Senate President.
“In fact, the EFCC itself came out to deny the report as it then said it had nothing to indict the Senate President.
“The anti-graft agency said the investigation was still on-going then. Yet, as at that time it had all these information it is now dishing out.
“It is obvious that at this point when Mr. Magu believes the Senate President should be blamed for his failure to secure confirmation as Chairman of EFCC by the Senate, he would want to fight back by cooking up reports and masterminding its leakage.
“We maintain our stand that Dr. Saraki has no direct or indirect link to the distribution of the NGF money. No money from the Paris Club refund was paid to Dr. Saraki.
“In addressing the specifics of the allegation in the reports as we gathered from the press, EFCC believe that since the Senate President has worked in the same organisation with Mr. Robert Mbonu before, whatever transaction he is involved in should be linked to the Senate President in this era of mud-slinging and much-raking.
“We would like to say that Mr. Mbonu is not representing Mr. Saraki in any transaction he does with the NGF and no money from his company, Melrose, in his dealing with Nigeria Governors Forum came to Dr. Saraki either directly or indirectly.
“And if the EFCC has any information to the contrary, we challenge them to make it public.
“We state categorically that no aide of the Senate President acted on Saraki’s behalf in whatever they do with Mr. Mbonu.
“Again, If Melrose paid any money to a jeweller or any shop, that has nothing to do with the Senate President.
“We believe Melrose must have the necessary documentation in support of their transaction and we are sure the EFCC is aware of all these.
“In the same vein, if Melrose chose to invest in another company, that decision has nothing to do with the Senate President and the act of drawing a link between Mbonu and Saraki can at best be only pure mischief.
“At this point, it should be noted that Xtract Energy Services Limited is a well known foreign exchange dealer with almost 15 years of existence in the market and the company is widely known to do business with many organisations in the country.
“The last time the Senate President patronised the company was on December 19, 2014 and we challenge Mr. Magu and the EFCC to prove that the Senate President transacted any form of business with the foreign exchange dealer in the period of the payment of the Paris Club refund.
“We call on members of the public to view this concocted and leaked report as Mr. Magu’s form of fighting back.
“The report has no truth in it. It should be noted that the Senate President was not behind Magu’s failure to get confirmation from the Senate.
“That was democracy in action. Dr. Saraki is merely a presiding officer and first among equals. Dr. Saraki did not in any way interfere with the confirmation process.
The spokesman for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed that investigations were on-going into the Paris Club scam.
He, however, said he did not know the specifics of the investigations.
“I can only confirm that there are investigations but I don’t have details,” Uwujaren said.