– The EFCC has linked Saraki, aides to N3.5 billion Paris Club refund
– The anti graft agency said that Saraki in connivance with his aides and associates allegedly laundered the fund
– The EFCC told President Buhari in its report it found strong grounds to prosecute those named in the N3.5 billion, but said investigations were still ongoing
Last week, Nigerians learnt of an explosive report the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari about alleged corrupt practices by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
Premium Times’ investigation reveals that in the March 10 correspondence to the president, the anti-graft agency detailed how Mr Saraki — in connivance with his aides and associates – allegedly laundered N3.5 billion traced to the Paris Club loan refund to states.
We gathered that investigators say Mr Saraki enlisted the service of a consultant, Robert Mbonu of Melrose General Services Limited, and Kathleen Erhimu, a staff of Access Bank to liaise with his aides and associates to launder the fund.
The accused persons are Mr Saraki’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Gbenga Makanjuola, Obiora Amobi, Kolawole Shittu and Oladapo Idowu.
When allegations of diversion of parts of the over half a trillion naira Paris Club refund money emerged in February, sparking nationwide controversy, state governors denied misusing the money, and slammed the EFCC reported probe as “unwarranted attack on the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, its officials and associated entities”.
Mr Saraki swiftly dismissed reports linking him to the money as “concocted”, and accused the EFCC acting head, Ibrahim Magu, of being the source of its leak.
But the report to President Buhari, seen by Premium Times, provides details of a complex web of questionable money transfers, which investigators say ended up in the pocket of the Senate president.
The report, as well as interviews with officials, also offers some response to the widely-asked question of how Mr. Saraki allegedly became linked to the funds, despite not being a governor. State governors were the direct recipients of the money on behalf of their states.
The Nigerian government reached a debt relief deal with Paris Club in 2005, and paid $6.2 billion to guarantee a debt relief of up to $18 billion, according to the Debt Management Office.
Acting EFCC chairman, Ibrahim Magu
But not long after the deal was reached, some states and local governments began raising questions about possible over-deductions of their share of the loan repayment. They argued that the deducted amount did not reflect their actual borrowings from Paris Club between 1995 and 2002.
Many states initially hired consultants to help pursue a refund, but later resolved to engage a consortium of consultants for coordination.
Last December, the Ministry of Finance commenced transfers to states. All 36 states received between N4 billion and N15 billion.
Sources familiar with the deal told Premium Times that shortly before the ministry commenced transfer after all paperwork had been completed, governors decided to warehouse some of the money —about N17 billion— in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
According to the sources, the governors hoped to use the money to settle consultants who worked for the refund.
The governors also anticipated a backlash from the National Assembly which might have complained because the refund was not captured in either the 2016 or 2017 budgets.
Settlement of claims
Following the deposit of N17 billion into its account, several consultants, lawyers and others began inundating the NGF with requests, officials said.
Although the NGF did not list the names of all those that qualified for settlements, the body confirmed that Melrose General Services Limited was amongst firms that provided services.
The NGF said in a statement that Melrose was paid N3.5 billion after the company “diligently delivered on its contractual obligations.”
But the EFCC, during investigation, uncovered how the director of Melrose, Robert Mbonu, allegedly initiated a series of bank transfers to individuals connected to Mr Saraki.
A part of the EFCC’s report reads: “Mr. Robert Mbonu is alleged to have received the sum of N3.5billion into his company’s account (Melrose General Services Limited) from the NGF through Account 0005892453 domiciled in Access Bank.
“Investigation revealed that one Kathleen Erhimu is the Relationship Manager to Dr. Bukola Saraki’s account with Access Bank.
“That Saraki at a meeting introduced one Joseph Oladapo Idowu and Gbenga Peter Makanjuola to her and Hon. Makanjuola thereafter introduced Mr. Robert Mbonu to Ms Kathleen Erhimu.
“That Mbonu operates an account, Melrose General Services with Access Bank Plc 0005892453 and 0005653500 which was up till 13th December a business account.
“That Halima Kyari, the Head of Private Banking Group stated in a letter dated 13th December 2016, Mr. Robert Mbonu 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 the 14th December, the sum of N3.5 billion was lodged into Melrose General Services Company account number 0005892453 domiciled in Access Bank from the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).
“That thereafter Mr. Obiora Amobi and Hon. Gbenga Makanjuola were introduced to Access Bank as representatives of Melrose General Services Limited by Robert Mbonu to enable them cash withdrawals from the account.”
Saraki, aides, associates and the coincidence
In its report, the EFCC highlighted a number of coincidences in the disbursement of the N3.5 billion and past activities of Mr Saraki.
Minister of finance, Kemi Adeosun
The EFCC report did not say Mr Saraki personally moved some of the N3.5 billion.
But while tracking the money, anti-graft detectives found a consistent pattern in the individuals named in the alleged money laundering scheme.
For instance, Mr Makanjuola, Mr Saraki’s Deputy Chief of Staff, featured prominently in the alleged laundering of the N3.5 billion.
Mr Makanjuola once served as a lawmaker from Kwara state.
Last week, he was named in an ongoing corruption case by a former research institute provost who said he gave Mr Makanjuola and other federal lawmakers a gratification to the tune of N50 million.
Mr Mbonu, whose firm received the N3.5 billion as “consultancy payment” from NGF, worked at the defunct Societe Generale Bank owned by Mr. Saraki’s family.
Similarly, Tunde Morakinyo, who was named in the report as having allegedly conveyed money for Mr. Saraki in 2014, was a longtime aide to the Senate President.
Past assignments Mr. Saraki was believed to have engineered for Mr. Morakinyo included recommending him as an aide to public officials from Kwara State so as to keep tab on their activities and report back to his principal.
In its report, the EFCC told President Buhari it found strong grounds to prosecute those named in the N3.5 billion, but said investigations were still ongoing.
Some of the beneficiary firms the EFCC investigated included: Mallam Alu Agro Allied Limited, Melrose General Services Co. Ltd, Bizplus Consulting Services Ltd., Bina Consults & Integrated Services, amongst other consultants and legal experts.