Senate Committee Walks Out EFCC Officials, As Lamorde Fails To Honour Invitation

 

Ibrahim-Lamorde00

By Tosin Omoniyi

The controversy over the alleged diversion of N1trillion recovered proceeds of crime by the Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, deepened on Wednesday as he failed to appear before the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition.

It was learnt that the committee walked out the delegation sent by the commission to observe proceedings at the hearing, insisting that it had not invited any of those on the team.

The committee had invited Lamorde to appear before it to defend allegations of fraud made against him by George Uboh, the chief executive of Public Alert Security Systems.

But a source at the EFCC told the www.icirnigeria.org that the EFCC chairman had sent a letter to the committee asking for another date for its chairman to appear before it, having been committed to a previous engagement.

Even then, the commission sent a team led by its director of legal and prosecution, Chile Okoroma, to observe proceedings.

While stating that the chairman was not afraid of probe, the source added that “Lamorde felt it would be foolhardy to appear before a committee he did not have confidence in and one that already had a pre-planned script it was acting upon.”

The source said that Lamorde’s misgivings about the committee had been confirmed as the EFCC delegation that was sent to observe proceedings was shocked at what it discovered at the venue of the hearing.

“The EFCC boss is vindicated by what transpired at the hearing. He earlier wrote to the committee that he would not be able to attend the hearing. But a delegation led by the head of legal of the EFCC, Chile Okoroma was there to observe. They observed several actions by the committee that showed that the EFCC boss would not have received any fair hearing if he had appeared,” the source said.

It was gathered that Okoroma had observed to the committee members that it was unfair to continue with the hearing and listen to only the petitioner even when the EFCC chairman had asked for another date for him to appear before it.

He also noted that the petitioner referred to several documents none of which had been made available to the Lamorde.

He added that Uboh in his submissions only mentioned the EFCC and not Lamorde although the hearing was designated as a personal probe of the anti-graft agency’s boss.

A member of the Senate committee, Dino Melaye, an avowed supporter of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, reportedly shut down the observations members of the delegation and subsequently walked them out.

“The petitioner came with a lot of documents, which he was brandishing when he was making his allegations. Strangely, in the invitation sent to the EFCC boss, he was not told to bring along any document to defend himself neither was he told the kinds of documents being brought to the hearing by the petitioner to back the allegations against him so he could bring the relevant ones to counter them. It would have been ill-advised for him to appear before such a compromised committee,” the source stated.

Uboh had sent a petition to the Senate alleging that Lamorde, while he was director of operations between 2003 and 2007 and acting chairman of the anti-graft agency had diverted over N1trillion recovered from the trials of former police boss, Tafa Balogun and former governor of Bayelsa, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

He had accused the EFCC boss of illegally operating hidden accounts where the stolen funds were kept for unofficial purposes, which do not reflect in EFCC’s audited accounts.

He also accused Lamorde of trading with the stolen funds through bank deposits and placements; manipulating bank accounts to conceal diversion of funds; and colluding with real estate companies in order to grossly undervalue seized assets before they were eventually sold through illegal avenues.

Uboh also claimed that over half of the assets seized from convicts were not reflected in EFCC exhibit records, while over 95 per cent of EFCC’s total recoveries in foreign currencies had been diverted.

Many believe that the latest development brings to a head the confrontation between the EFCC and the Senate President, who is believed to be tacitly giving his support to the onslaught on the anti-graft agency.

For many also, the recent revelations about the petitioner give ample cause for concern.

Uboh, the petitioner, is a suspected fraudster, who is standing trial before Justice J, Aladetoyinbo of the FCT High Court on three counts of fraud involving theft of properties belonging to the Police Equipment Fund, PEF.

Uboh had been charged by the EFCC on allegations that in 2007 he illegally sold six operational vehicles, including two Hillux vans belonging to the PEF to Muha Motors through one Blessing Egbon.

Despite this revelation, it appears there is more than meets the eye going by other disconcerting revelations about Uboh.

Investigations by another website, Sahara Reporters, reveal other revelations on the petitioner’s past.

It was revealed that a United States court once convicted the petitioner and his younger sister, Doris Uboh, who is a former House of Representatives member, for credit card fraud in 1992.

The Ubohs, and 27 others, in addition, were indicted for allegedly dealing in hard drugs and varying degrees of felony.

The charges on illicit drugs were later dropped, however.

The younger Udoh was later said to have escaped to Nigeria to avoid conviction. She soon contested and won a seat in the House of Representatives.

The case went through the US courts from 1992 to 1998. Although the American authorities issued a motion to dismiss the charges in 1998, the case was re-assigned in 1999.

For critical observers also, the allegations against Lamorde also seem to be a rehash of the same set of accusations levelled against former EFCC boss, Nuhu Ribadu, who was hounded out of office, during the Umaru Musa Yar’adua administration.

It would be recalled that the former anti-graft czar was hounded out of office in 2009, not long after he was accused of embezzling the funds recovered from Alamieyeseigha and Balogun, a charge he had vehemently denied.

In addition to these allegations, Ribadu was also accused of diverting the proceeds from sale of the seized properties recovered from a convicted felon, Emmanuel Nwude, who defrauded a Brazilian national of over $242 million.

Ribadu has consistently stated that though the recovery of funds from Alamieyeseigha had been done under his dispensation, the disposal of the same funds and properties were done by his successor, Farida Waziri.

Waziri is widely believed to have been a stooge of convicted former Delta State governor, James Ibori and Saraki, two prominent governors that were investigated on fraud charges by Ribadu while he held sway as EFCC boss.

Ribadu also said through an order of forfeiture, Nwude’s properties had been given back to the rightful owners he defrauded as a form of restitution and that the disposal was handled by lawyers to the complainants and not the EFCC.

In the case of Balogun, Ribadu had said that a court order was obtained to recover the assets and the process of disposal was handled by leading estate firms in the country, adding that he did not partake in the asset disposal process.

Bukola Saraki
Bukola Saraki

Many see the current travails of the current EFCC boss as an unveiled attempt by Saraki to cut Lamorde to size for daring to launch an investigation into his affairs.

It would be recalled that the EFCC had invited Toyin Saraki, the Senate President’s wife, on July 3 to assist it in an investigation it was carrying out on some of her activities while her husband was governor.

Also invited was the daughter of former President Musa Yar’adua, Zainab.

The invitation had not gone down well with a group of lawmakers, who saw it as an affront on the person of the Senate President.

The EFCC has also reportedly sought the assistance of the London Metropolitan Police in its money laundering investigations into Saraki.

Recently, in reaction to the allegations, Lamorde denied diverting the said N1tr derived from assets recovered from corrupt officials.

He said he was also ready to face probe from any relevant government outfit. He added that for him to appear before such bodies, the invitation must follow due process.

The EFCC boss noted that ironically all the funds it recovered for the past 12 years since it was formed to fight graft in addition to the yearly funds appropriated to it by the government, was not equal to the amount of money he is being accused of embezzling.

In a statement issued by the commission’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwajuren, the EFCC chairman said its invitation to KPMG recently to audit its account was enough proof that it had nothing to hide.

“The EFCC under Lamorde did not need the prompting of anyone, when it commissioned a reputable international audit firm, KPMG to carry out comprehensive audit of exhibits and forfeited assets of the Commission from 2003 to date. The report of the audit will be made public once it is ready. Were the Commission to be jittery about its records, it would not have embarked on such audit,” the statement said.

It added that it was curious that the petition and subsequent invitation to appear before the Senate Committee, came not long after it launched a probe on the wife of the Senate President, Toyin Saraki, which was an offshoot of its investigations into alleged money laundering perpetrated by her husband while he was the governor of Kwara State.

However, Saraki on Wedenesday denied plans of planning to hound the EFCC boss over the current investigations being launched into his affairs.

Saraki, who made the denial through his media aide, Bamikole Omisore, said apart from the EFCC, the Senate was equally launching investigations into the operations of the Customs, Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS and the Nigeria Ports Authority, NPA.

He said none of the listed outfits was being unfairly targeted.

“To set the record straight, nobody can rightfully claim that Senator Saraki engaged the services of the petitioner or any other person for that matter. There are about four different petitions from individuals, groups and corporate organisations written against the EFCC and submitted to the Senate,” Omisore noted.

He said his principal would not be browbeaten in his legitimate move to carry out his constitutional functions.

“Senator Saraki is not the same as the Senate or National Assembly as an institution. Imputing sentiment into the legitimate working of any government institution will not augur well for our development and democratic process,” the statement said.

To add a new twist to the saga, in an advertorial on Monday, Senator Godswill Akpabio, leader of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, caucus in the Senate, said it was not the appropriate time to embark on the EFCC probe since previous attempts at investigating it had failed at previous plenary sessions.

Akpabio’s statement was also signed by other PDP minority principal officers.

However, in apparent reaction on Wednesday, the chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, said the probe would go on as scheduled on Wednesday.

He said he would not take orders from anyone in carrying out his constitutional duties as chairman of the committee.

“This is a standing committee of the Senate. It is not only the EFCC boss that has been invited, there are other petitions and we have invited the petitioners and those that are petitioned. We are guided by the Senate Standing Rule and the 1999 Constitution to invite anybody when the matter arises,” he said.






     

     

    He added that the invitation followed due process contrary to accusations made by the EFCC and was not a vendetta against the EFCC boss.

    “That (allegation) is not correct. There are ways petitions can come to the Senate. A petitioner can write straight to the Senate President and the President will send it to the appropriate committee that is involved.”

    He said the position of the PDP minority leaders was not a reflection of the opinion of the majority of lawmakers.

    Our source at the EFCC indicated that with the latest development, it is doubtful that Lamorde would ever honour any invitation to appear before the Senate committee as he does not have confidence that it can give him a fair hearing.

     

     

     

     

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