The Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC are tearing at each other over a N19bn Paris Club scam, allegedly perpetrated by Saraki and some of his aides.
The anti-graft agency has accused the Senate president of diverting N19bn from the N522bn Paris Club refund by the Federal Government to the 36 states of the federation in December 2016.
The aides to Saraki fingered by the EFCC in its report are Mr. Robert Mbonu of Melrose General Services Limited, Kathleen Erhimu, the Relationship Manager to the Senate President in Access Bank, Obiora Amobi, Gbenga Makanjuola, Kolawole Shittu and Oladapo Idowu.
These aides, according to the EFCC report devised various means of siphoning the N19 bn from the N522.74bn money, which was approved by the Federal Government in December, 2016 to be paid to the 36 states of the federation as part of the reimbursement of the over-deduction on the Paris Club loan from 1995 to 2002.
The Central Bank of Nigeria illegally routed the N19bn through the account of the Nigeria Governors Forum.
According to the EFCC, “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.”
In a swift reaction, Sunday, Saraki’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu denied the allegation and accused Acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu of trying to get back at the Senate President for the rejection of his confirmation as Chairman of the anti-corruption agency, twice. .
He said: “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,” he said.
“In addressing the specifics of the allegation in the reports as we gathered from the press, EFCC believes that since the Senate President has worked in the same organization 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,” he stated.
“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 organizations in the country.
“The last time the Senate President patronized 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.
“It should be noted that the Senate Prssident 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 Nigerian Governors’ Forum has clarified its involvement in the disbursement of the December 2016 Paris Fund refund.
In a statement issued on Monday and signed by Abdulrazque Barkindo, Head, Media and Public Affairs of the NGF, the Forum said the EFCC had routinely interrogated its official and consultants involved in the disbursement of the first tranche of the Paris Club refund and found nothing incriminating with the process.
Barkindo said: “While the NGF will not want to repeatedly join issues with the EFCC on the disbursement of the first tranche of the Paris Club refund, particularly after its officials have been interrogated by the anti-corruption agency and we provided all necessary and required details and documents regarding disbursement to states, including harmonizing the number of consultants and payment made to them, we are constrained to once again state the following for the benefit of members of the public:
“ It is true that Melrose General Services Limited was one of the consultants that was duly engaged and documented to facilitate the disbursement of the Paris Club Refund.
“The consultant was also paid an amount commensurate to the services it provided, among other numerous consultants that were involved in the process.
“ It is not in the NGF’s purview to determine how Melrose or other consultants disburse or utilize the consultancy fee paid to them.
“The NGF should therefore not be dragged into how its suppliers, lawyers, contractors and consultants spend their legitimate incomes and revenues.
“ It may interest the public to know that the NGF is still being inundated with claims from many other consultants from all over the country who had earlier been engaged and promised commission by the respective states.
“ The NGF maintains its earlier position that it has done nothing illegal as far as the disbursement of the Paris Club Refund to states and the consultants are concerned. The Forum has all necessary approvals to act in the manner it did. Therefore, the misinformation in the media about the disbursement and insinuations being made concerning some Governors that are being mentioned is outright mischief.
“. We will like to state that the approval for the release of the second tranche of the Paris Club refund by President Muhammadu Buhari is indicative of his Confidence in the NGF for the manner it handled the disbursement of the first tranche of the fund.
“ The NGF would like to once again place it on record that it played an altruistic and patriotic role in ensuring that it aided, as directed, approved and authorized by the Presidency, Federal Ministry of Finance, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Debt Management Office (DMO) and all other necessary agencies of government, the disbursement of the funds to entities and individuals lawfully entitled to it. All approvals, authorization, terms of engagements and disbursement were properly documented and are verifiable by anyone, including the general public.