N2.3billion NIMASA Scam: Fashion Designer Paid N546m for Undisclosed Service
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Monday commenced trial of a former Director- General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi and five others before Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court Lagos, with a startling revelation of how a fashion designer, Chukuemeka Benjamin was paid N546million for services not rendered by the maritime agency.
Akpbolokemi is standing trial, alongside five others in a N2.3billion charge preferred against them by the EFCC. Three witnesses have been presented so far before the court in the matter. They are: Teslim Adekunle, a Compliance Officer with the Zenith Bank Plc, Chukwuemeka Benjamin and Usaini Sabo. Adekunle appeared before the court on Monday while Benjamin and Sabo appeared before Justice Buba on Tuesday.
In his own testimony, Adekunle told the court that, between August and October 2015, his bank received nine requests from EFCC in respect of the following accounts: Southern Offshore Limited, Kenzo Logistics Limited, Extreme Vertex tex Nigeria Limited , Aroward Consulting Limited, Avant Guard Security Solution, Green Lemon Limited, Ace Prosthesis Limited, O2 Services Limited, Suco Global Limited and the Committee on International Shipping and Port Security (ISPS). According to him, money flowed into accounts of the aforementioned companies from the account of the Committee on ISPS.
The witness was shown a bundle of documents which he identified as the request letters from EFCC, response from his bank, and the statement of accounts in question. In exhibit P10, the witness said that on 5 March, 2015 there was an inflow of the sum of N21, 200,000 into the nine customers account from the Committee on ISPS. Also on 4 May, 2015 there was another inflow of the sum of N16,000,000 into same account from ISPS. Another N21,200,000, was again paid into that same account but as at the time the last lodgment was made, there was a balance of only N1404.93 in the account. When the witness was asked how the money earlier credited into that account was disbursed, he said that on 19 June, 2015 there was an outflow of the sum of N10,000,000 and N11,200,000 to the account of one Uchenna Obi domiciled at Diamond Bank.
In exhibit P9, the witness said there was an evidence of the credit of the sum of N795,200,000 lodged on 29 August 2014 in the account of ISPS from NIMASA. After the lodgment of the money, the witness said there were several outflows thereafter. According to the witness, the fourth accused person, through thirteen different transactions, received N3,000,000,000 from the account of ISPS.
Other beneficiaries of the money are: 6 November 2014, Extreme Bartex Nigeria Limited (318,000,000); 27 November, 2014, Avant Guard Security Solution (N94,000,000); 28 November, 2014 Extreme Vertex Nigeria Limited (N207,000,000); 8 January, 2015 Suco Global Limited (15,000,000); 15 March, 2015 O2 Services Limited( N21,200,000) and 4 May, 2015 O2 services Limited: (N16,000,000).
The witness also told the court that on 28 May 2015 another N447,000,000 was paid into ISPS account from NIMASA and after the lodgment, the money was allegedly transferred into various account of the aforementioned companies.
In exhibit P6, the witness disclosed that the sum of N230,000,000 was paid into Aroward Consulting Limited from NIMASA on 12 December, 2014 and on 28 December, 2014 another N257,000,000 and N176,000,000 were also paid into the same account.
The witness while explaining exhibit P4, said another company Avant Guard Security Solution received the sums of N29,459,600, N94,000,000, and N95,000,000 respectively from NIMASA between 22 July 2014 to 28 May 2015.
Exhibit P11 shows that there was an inflow of the sum N212,690,000 from NIMASA and outflow of the sum of N17,100,000 to Southern Offshore Limited.
After reviewing and explaining the contents of the exhibit, prosecuting counsel Rotimi Oyedepo asked the witness to explain the procedure for cash lodgment and disbursement in his bank and the witness said, all funds are disbursed based on instructions of the customer, either In the banking hall to conduct his transaction or by use of Internet Banking. In any case, the instructions for payment always come from the customer.
The prosecuting counsel showed the witness another set of documents which he identified as instructions for payment in respect of Aroward Consulting Limited. The documents were later admitted as evidence and marked as exhibit P12. In exhibit P12, the signatory of Aroward Consullting Limited appeared as one Philip Enusheike.
During cross examination, counsel representing the first accused person, Joseph Nwobike SAN, asked the witness if he was familiar with his client or has come across his name in any of the documents presented in court, but the witness said no.
Ideho Onyeke, counsel representing the second accused also asked the witness if the name of his client was mentioned in any of the beneficiaries of alleged disbursed sum. The witness said he only came across the name of the second accused person as the signatory to Committee on ISPS account.
Lanre Olayinka, counsel for the Third, fifth and sixth accused persons, asked the witness the basis for the payment of N3, 000,000 made to Ekene Nwakuche but the witness said that he did not process the payment so he wouldn’t know.
A.I.Asemundara, counsel for the fourth accused person asked the witness if he was aware of any more evidence in respect of this case and the witness said he was only called to give evidence on the documents before the court.
At the resumption of the trial on Tuesday, another witness, Chukwuemeka Benjamin, General Manager of one of the companies that allegedly benefitted from the disbursement of funds from the Committee on International Shipping and Port Security ISPS, gave his testimony. He told the court how his company, Extreme Vertex Nigeria Limited received the total sum of over N546,000,000 (Five Hundred and Forty Six Million Naira only) from NIMASA for a service that was never executed.
The witness, a fashion designer by profession, told the court that he and the third accused person: Ekene Nwakuche, were secondary school mates. He further told the court that he approached Nwakuche when he learned that he had a job with NIMASA and asked him if there was any contract available that he could handle.
Thereafter, Benjamin said that Nwakuche started giving him some business.
The first transaction came through a credit alert of the sum of N21,200,000 (Twenty one Million, Two Thousand Naira Only) from NIMASA . The witness said that he asked for the purpose of the lodgment in his account but Nwakuche only told him to hold on that he was awaiting instructions from his boss, the second accused, Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba.
Benjamin told the court that after a while, Nwakuche provided him with some specific account numbers and instructed him to transfer the said money into the accounts provided. The witness also told the court that sometime in November 2014, he received another inflow of the sum of N318,000,000 from NIMASA with the same instruction to transfer the sum into certain account numbers provided by Nwakuche.
The last lodgment the witness received from NIMASA was for the sum of N207,000,000 (Two Hundred and Seven Million Naira Only) with the same instructions of moving it into some specified account numbers.
Prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo asked the witness if there was any contract agreement between his company and NIMASA and the witness said, no.
Oyedepo showed the witness exhibit P7 and the witness confirmed to the court that he was the signatory to the account.
Oyedepo also showed the witness another document alleged to be forged and addressed to the Director General of NIMASA: the first accused person. Benjamin confirmed to the court that the letter did not emanate from his company and that he didn’t know the person who signed the document. The letter was then tendered and admitted as exhibit P13.
During cross examination, Joseph Nwobike SAN, asked the witness if he knew his client: the first accused but the witness said that he had never met the first accused person.
Counsel for the second accused person, Ideho Onyeke asked the witness if he has had any contact with the second accused person: Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba and the witness said that he only knew him through Nwakuche who introduced him as his boss.
The witness agreed that he was invited by the EFCC as a suspect and he gave his statement under caution. He also told the court that after the first lodgment was made, he asked Nwakuche if it was for mobilization and Nwakuche told him to wait for further instructions. But after the second lodgment, he reportedly told Nwakuche not to put him in trouble.
While admitting that he benefitted from the money he received during cross examination, he told the court that the money he received was for bank charges.
The witness denied knowing about the covert operation conducted by NIMASA.
The prosecuting counsel later called the third witness: Usaini Sabo. In his evidence, Sabo told the court that he operated as a middle man between buyer and seller in Bureau de Change.
When he was asked to explain the events of December 1, 2014, he told the court that he received the sum of N40,000,000 in two transactions through Avant Guard Security Solution, one of the companies that allegedly benefitted from the disbursement of funds from the Committee on International Shipping and Port Security ISPS .The witness said that he also received the total sum of N238,800,000 (Two Hundred and Thirty Eight Million, Eight Hundred Thousand Naira Only) from another company: Southern Offshore Limited.
During cross examination, Nwobike asked the witness if he knew his client and the witness said, no. Ideho Onyeke on the other hand asked the witness if he was called by the EFCC to give evidence on the promise that he would not be prosecuted and the witness said nobody told him anything like that.
When the counsel for the second accused person asked him again if he had a license to conduct his business, Sabo told the court that as an agent he doesn’t require licence to conduct his business.
The witness was subsequently discharged and Justice Ibrahim Buba adjourned the matter to 2, 5, 16, and 19 February, 2016 for continuation of trial.