N37bn fraud: Buhari’s minister to face EFCC interrogators January 3

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has invited the former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, over an ongoing probe into the N37,170,855,753.44 allegedly laundered under her watch through a contractor, James Okwete.

The former minister was asked to appear before interrogators at the EFCC headquarters, Jabbi, Abuja on Wednesday, January 3, 2024, to explain the alleged fraud, an exclusive document seen by our correspondent on Saturday revealed.

The document read in part, “The commission is investigating a case of money laundering involving the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development during your time as minister.

“In view of the above, you are requested to kindly report for an interview with the undersigned. Scheduled as follows: Wednesday, 3rd of January, 2024. Time: 10am. This request is made pursuant to Section 38 (I) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004 & Section 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.”

The ex-minister could not be reached for comments on Saturday as her telephone indicated that it was switched off. When our correspondent contacted her former media aide, Nneka Ikem, over the development, she told our correspondent off and proceeded to switch off her phone.

“As you’re asking me? I’ll be asking you too, where did you learn that the EFCC has invited her, “ Ikem queried before ending the call. Subsequent calls indicated that her phone had been switched off.

Umar-Farouq had earlier denied knowledge of the contractor, James Okwete, who is still being held by the anti-graft agency.

The former minister tweeted on her X handle on Monday, “There have been a number of reports linking me to a purported investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission into the activities of one James Okwete, someone completely unknown to me.

“James Okwete neither worked for, nor represented me in any way whatsoever. The linkages and associations to my person are spurious. While I resist the urge to engage in any media trial whatsoever, I have however contacted my legal team to explore possible options to seek redress on the malicious attack on my person.

“I remain proud to have served my country as a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with every sense of responsibility and would defend my actions, stewardship and programmes during my tenure whenever I am called upon to do so.”

The spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, declined comments on the ex-minister’s invitation when contacted by Sunday PUNCH.

“I’m not around at the moment, and I can’t speak on that, please,” Oyewale said.

Sunday PUNCH had earlier reported that the EFCC had arrested Okwete in connection with the ongoing probe into the N37.1bn allegedly laundered by the ministry under Umar-Farouq.

A top EFCC official, who confided in our correspondent, said the contractor had made useful statements concerning Umar-Farouq and former directors-general of agencies under the ministry.

The development coincides with the probe of three other ministers, who served under former President Muhammadu Buhari for alleged graft estimated at N150bn.

“It is not only Umar-Farouk we are investigating. Three other former ministers are also under probe. They were allegedly involved in graft to the tune of N150bn,” a credible source in the EFCC had confided in our correspondent.

Sources revealed that Umar-Farouq and some former directors-general of agencies under the ministry might be arrested by the commission following the details of the alleged financial misappropriation so far revealed to interrogators by the contractor.

Investigations by the anti-graft agency allegedly revealed that the N37.1bn was transferred from the Federal Government’s coffers and sent to 38 different bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks belonging to or connected with Okwete.

Impeccable sources had earlier confirmed to Sunday PUNCH that Okwete was cooperating with investigators.

According to the EFCC officials, the contractor was arrested four days ago.

A source said, “The contractor, Mr Okwete, who was used in laundering the money, has been arrested by the commission. He is currently in our custody and has been giving investigators more details that have indicted the former minister and some DGs under the ministry, and they may be brought in anytime soon too.”

Another source stated, “The contractor involved in the N37.bn fraud has been arrested and will spend Christmas in our custody. He has given some names, and the former humanitarian affairs minister and directors-general in the ministry were linked to the fraud.”

Sunday PUNCH reports that the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs currently serves as the parent ministry to eight agencies, including the National Social Investment Office, the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Sustainable Development Goals, and the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants, and Internationally Displaced Persons, among others.

Umar-Farouq was the pioneer Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

She was appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019 as the youngest cabinet member.

Her work with Buhari dates back to his days as the leader and presidential candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change when she was the national treasurer of the party and later the national treasurer of the All Progressives Congress.

Documents obtained by Sunday PUNCH revealed that following receipt of the funds, Okwete allegedly transferred N6,746,034,000 to Bureau De Change operators, withdrew N540m, purchased luxury cars with N288,348,600 and bought luxury houses in Abuja and Enugu State with N2,195,115,000.

A total of 53 companies were reportedly traced to Okwete, who was also said to have used 47 of the firms to secure Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86.

He was also linked with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks of which 134 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.

Checks by our correspondent with the Corporate Affairs Commission revealed that Okwete is a director in only 11 of the 53 companies, while the remaining 42 companies’ accounts are linked to his Bank Verification Number as a signatory to the accounts.

The document stated, “Between 2018 and 2023, the subject (Okwete) received the sum of N37,170,855,753.44 from the coffers of the Federal Government linked to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

“The money was sent to 38 bank accounts domiciled in five legacy commercial banks. The suspect transferred N6,746,034,000 to Bureau De Change operators, N540mn withdrawn in cash, N288,348,600 used to purchase cars, and used N2,195,115,000 to purchase choice properties within Abuja and Enugu State.

“Fifty-three companies were traced to the suspect. He used 47 of the companies to lift Federal Government contracts amounting to N27,423,824,339.86.

“Okwete is associated with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks in which 134 of the 143 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.”

In 2020, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission said it uncovered N2.67bn meant for the ministry’s school feeding programme in private bank accounts.

The former ICPC Chairman, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, disclosed that the commission unravelled N2.67bn in personal accounts, being payment made to some federal colleges for school feeding during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.

Other discoveries by the ICPC include 18 buildings, 12 business premises and 25 plots of land.

Owasanoye said under the Open Treasury Portal review carried out between January and August 15, 2020, of the 268 Ministries, Departments and Agencies, 72 had cumulative infractions of N90m.

The former ICPC chairman argued that the money was paid when children were not in school.

(Punch)

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