When Austin Ugochukwu, Managing Director of Circleflow Management Nigeria Ltd, was approached by Kunle Adesuyi, one of his longstanding business partners, and Chinwe Ofolue, Regional Head, Heritage Bank, Marina Branch, Lagos, for foreign exchange transaction, he didn’t have any doubt that the N1million dollar business was “doomed to succeed”.
To him, it was just like every other successful transaction he had been involved in.
The settings and the personalities involved looked too formal and convincing for him to think otherwise, but the whole arrangement, as he later realised, was a mere ruse, and indeed an organised fraud.
“Due to my longstanding relationship with Kunle, I decided to move with him to Madam Chinwe and I confirm truly that she is a Regional Head with the bank and that gave me some level of comfort that made me think I could work with this set of people,” said Ugochukwu, who is currently battling the influence of the fraudsters within the security operatives and anti-corruption agency to get justice after he was duped.
He was later to find out that the fraud syndicates were headed by Tony Akala Bakare and Otunba Lanre, both Lagos politicians, whom he accused of trying to use their political connections within the Nigeria Police Headquarters and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to frustrate investigation by the police.
Lanre is currently in police custody while Bakare is yet to be apprehended. Both are said to be very powerful and connected.
According to a petition written on his behalf by Nicholas Eku, his lawyer, to Ibrahim Idris, Inspector General of Police, on the matter, both Bakare and Lanre have issued death threats to him to abandon the case and forget about the money. In the petition, Eku pleaded with the IGP to use his office to ensure that the investigation is not truncated but pursued to the logical conclusion.
He also alleged that since the transfer of the case from Area J Police Station, Ajah, to AIG Zone 2 Police Headquarters, the investigation has been tainted. This, he argued, is because of the influence of the suspects.
he said that the suspects’ accounts 3021621013 and 3781685016 with FCMB, which were hitherto frozen by the Area Command, were lifted by the AIG Zone 2, thereby allowing them to move N66million and N35million away from them.
THE GRAND PLAN
His ordeal started when he was introduced to one Dr. Cyriacus Anyanwu who invited him and Kunle to an exquisitely furnished office at No 5B Audu Epkekha Street, Lekki, Lagos, on June 14, 2017. The office belongs to one Alhaji Umar Ali.
“Dr Anyanwu introduced himself as a partner to Alhaji Umar’s Company (Grantland Investment Ltd) and stated that they had been doing business for a long time.” Ugochukwu told the ICIR.
“He then said Alhaji Umar has $1,000,000 cash to sell through a said ‘General’. We agreed to purchase the dollars at N360/$.
“Meanwhile, during the whole negotiation process, Alhaji Umar Ali could not speak English, he said in Hausa ‘ba turenchi’ (meaning I don’t understand English) and so his personal assistant Bashir Mohammed was interpreting for him.”
After sourcing funds from his partners who needed dollars for their businesses, Ugochukwu, whose company specializes in sourcing FOREX for partners, said he was able to raise the N360million required for the transaction.
“I sourced the funds from my clients who needed the foreign exchange to service their businesses: Yahaya Abubakar, Sethwealth Ventures, Energy Fountain Oil and Gas Ltd, Sought After Synergy Nig Ltd,” he disclosed.
As negotiation progressed, Mohammed, who was interpreting for Alhaji Umar, advised him to make payment of N350, 000,000 into their FCMB corporate account, Grantland Investment Ltd with the account number 0785971017.’
Umar Ali and Mohammed presented themselves to be signatories to the account. The account was later discovered to belong to one Alhaji Agboola Rasheed, who was also part of the syndicate.
For his efforts as the go-between, Anyanwu took N10million from the transaction.
But he didn’t take it in cash — it was paid into different accounts which should have given Austin impression of the deal he was involved. He never suspected any foul play, however.
“Dr. Anyawu advised that his commission be paid into the following accounts NAD Foundation 1020188396 UBA (N6,500,000), Tri Chris Pet Services Ltd 101411797 Zenith Bank (N2,500,000) and I was to give him cash of N1,000,000 to make a total sum of N360,000,000 for USD1,000,000,” he said.
With the conviction that the deal was real and genuine, Ugochukwu said he initiated the transfer of the money the next day, June 15, 2017.
He said: “The transfers were initiated as instructed by Bashir and Dr. Anyanwu from our FCMB account Circle Flow Mgt Nig Ltd, with the account number 4308278023 on the next day June 15, 2017.”
THE APPREHENSIVE WAITING GAME
The transfer was smooth; he was told to make provision to pick the cash. So, he thought the delivery of the dollars was going to be smooth as the transfer of the naira equivalent, but it turned out to be a long wait and of course, a hide and seek.
He disclosed that he became apprehensive when he didn’t receive the dollars equivalent of N350million he transferred to Grantland account several hours after he transferred the money.
“Basir called the ‘General’ informing him that they have received the naira and he said they can come to pick up the cash. Bashir left while others remained with us in the office.”
But after an hour when they had not arrived and there was no information about them, Ugochukwu said he called his bank to place a restraint on the money he transferred to Grantland’s account.
“I immediately called my account officer to place a lien on the N350, 000,000 in their account when I became uncomfortable after about one hour,” he said.
While waiting for dollars to arrive, he said Yahaya Abubakar and his brothers, whose money was part of the N360million, were already putting him under intense pressure after about three hours of not seeing or receiving the dollars.
But while he insisted that the dollars be brought before he instructed his bank to lift the restraint on the account, the General, on the other hand, confirmed the receipt of the money in his account but said he needed to transfer some funds to his personal account before he would release the dollars.
He was said to be upset when he learnt Ugochukwu had placed a lien on the funds in Grantland Investment ltd account.
“We requested that the dollars be brought before we lift the lien but he insisted that the General will not allow him leave with the dollars he had already counted without confirming the Naira in his personal account,” he said
He, however, lifted the lien on the account after intervention by a lady called Nkechi. Rather than getting the $1million as agreed Bashir came back with just $130,000 at about 9pm that day, arguing that the General had already taken the dollars back to his safe when “we took time in lifting the lien and he just had to bring the $130,000 meant for another customer to pacify us”.
Mohammed promised to bring the balance the next day before 10a.m and wrote an agreement on Grantland Investment Ltd for the $130, 000 received and signed off as the owner.
The following morning, Mohammed, who had gone to bring the balance $870,000, stopped picking his calls after 12pm.
“We were tensed and Alhaji placed his hand on a Quran and swore we will get our money in Hausa to pacify us, we waited till 5pm, still no Bashir. We then turned the heat on Alhaji Umar Ali and he started fidgeting, suddenly we got a text from Bashir claiming EFCC had invited him and the seller, at this point all hell broke loose.
“Alhaji became very visibly apprehensive and he turned to me and said he will make sure I get my money back in fluent English, I was shocked knowing he could speak English and was only pretending all along; it then became apparent to us that it was all a scam.”
EFCC’s CONNECTION… THE CONFESSIONS
Ugochukwu fainted several times and even attempted suicide after learning that one Kamal had eloped with the $870,000 meant to pay his balance. But he soon found out that Kamal was a non-existing character in the whole arrangement.
It was at the office of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at Okoti Eboh, Lagos, that he wrote a petition against Kamal using Grantland Investment Ltd letterhead claiming Kamal had eloped with the cash dollar he collected from the General.
The petition, it was gathered, was sent to Abuja and approved the same day. That made him a complainant in whatever imminent charge that could be pressed against them
According to Ugochukwu, the Commission requested him to file a petition with them for the handling of the case. But his business partners who made the cash available would not have any of that, as they got him arrested.
While it looked that he might never be able to recover all his money, the businessman said he has so far recovered $350,000 out of the $1million paid to the fraud syndicates.
This was not until the principal characters in the crime confessed their roles to the police.
The ICIR gathered that the duo of Bashir and Umar confessed to the police that they were not the owners of Grantland Investment Ltd, the company with the account that Ugochukwu paid the money to.
They had forged those letter head papers and impersonated one Alhaji Agboola, the original signatory to Grantland Investment Ltd. But Agboola was also part of the fraud; upon interrogation at Area J Police Station, Ajah, Lagos, he confessed that the whole transaction was a scam.
He got $198,000 as his share of the fraud, while $150,000 was recovered from him in his house.
Bashir claimed that his share from the spoils is $55,000 while $35,000 was recovered from his house, and Umar claimed his share is $25,000 while $20,000 was recovered from him.
The police recovered a total of $205,000 from them. Ugochukwu revealed that the suspects also affirmed that the remaining $670, 000 is with two politicians: one Otunba and Tony Akala who later turned out to be the ‘General’ earlier referred to as the owner of the $1million.
The case is currently being investigated by the Force Intelligence Bureau (FIB), Area 10 Abuja.