Friday, April 18, 2014

Ifeanyi Ubah blasts Okonjo-Iweala, accuses her of playing Anambra politics with fuel subsidy probe

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The Capital Oil boss has accused Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and others of trying to steal his company.

One of the major suspects indicted for dubiously receiving fuel subsidy payments has accused the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, of playing politics with the subsidy probe.

The Managing Director of Capital Oil & Gas PLC, Ifeanyi Ubah, whose company is among the oil marketing companies indicted for petroleum subsidy fraud and recommended for criminal prosecution, made this accusation on Monday.

Mr. Ubah, who was a guest on a Channels Television programme monitored from Abuja on Monday, challenged Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, the Coordinating Minister for the Economy, to a public debate on the claims that his company defrauded the government by collecting subsidy without delivering products worth over N21 billion.

The Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede-led Presidential Committee on Verification and Reconciliation of Fuel Subsidy Payments had identified Capital Oil & Gas Industries, as well as Capital Oil & Gas Plc, among the 25 firms that made fraudulent claims that cost the nation about N382 billion.

The companies were indicted for collecting subsidy payments without proof of the existence of the bill of ladings for the mother and daughter vessel, as well as payments worth over N2 billion for trans-shipment of products from mother vessels that were not found at the times and locations claimed.

But, a visibly angry Mr. Ubah has accused the minister of conspiring with the subsidy probe panel Chairman and head of Access Bank, Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, who he claimed was her one-time “personal assistant” to plot the clandestine take-over of his company and to discredit him and rubbish his reputation.

The accusations

“I strongly believe that the Finance Minister, because of her rating and what people believe her to be internationally, is playing Anambra State politics with her job and her reputation,” Mr. Ubah, who claimed to preside over the biggest downstream company in the Nigerian economy today, said.

“She is assuming to be God. But, she is not God. I challenge the minister to come before Nigerians to discuss this issue. Does she even know how petroleum products are being dispensed in this country? Has she ever been to any petroleum products tank farm? Does she know what marketers are going through?

“This is a woman I took Dr. (Cosmas) Maduka to, asking her to set up a fair and unbiased enquiry to look into my business, because of Mr. Aig Imoukhuede, after Dr. Maduka said Peter Obi, the Governor of Anambra State, has a strong information on how they want to fight me and make sure that I become useless, because I am opposing him,” he said.

To validate his accusation of the minister, Mr. Ubah, who claimed he did not achieve his business success “by being a fraudster, criminal, or having any conviction in any Nigerian court”, also accused Mr. Maduka, the Managing Director of Coscharis Motors, of being used to destroy him and his business.

“In her (Minister’s) Economic Team, she has Peter Obi, Aig-Imoukhuede, and some of my competitors. She has told them to do everything to get me. Before now, Aig was her PA (personal assistant). Everything about oil and gas transactions are done in Access Bank. Access Bank controls 60 per cent of all importations in this country. It is either you obey their laws or you would be indicted.

“Dr. Cosmas Maduka was called in to do the hatchet man’s job for Aig Imoukhuede. So if Cosmas Maduka decides to play this politics to satisfy Peter Obi, Minister of Finance and Aig-Imoukhuede to retain his position, I will tell him that he is a joker. I am ready to sacrifice my life to fight the cause of this injustice not only to me, but all the marketers in Nigeria,” he said.

The Capital Oil boss said his company was blocked from trading since January this year.

He said Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and her team tried to tarnish his image before Nigerian banks, after which they found that his company’s facilities still control “35 per cent of all petroleum products distribution.”

“They went to London to enter a judgment to freeze my assets worldwide.

“They have been trying to induce my workforce to testify against me. Three of my workers have been so induced by these unseen forces to incriminate me. All these things are just to blackmail me so that I will not have a reputation. They want to ruin Nigeria and this industry,” he said.

A rofo-rofo fight

The battle between the finance minister and petroleum marketers, which is a major reason for the fuel scarcity being witnessed across the country may just be starting, going by Mr. Ubah’s words.

Mr. Ubah said Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and her economic team “have met the wrong guy.”

“We are going to push ourselves and do this roforofo (muddy) war to a point that Nigerians will know and they will lose credibility.

“If the Minister of Finance does not take this serious, I am going to sue her in New York of being biased,” he said.

Insisting on his company’s innocence, Mr. Ubah blamed his travails on Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede, who he said has already been listed among the four entities he has dragged before the court and the National Assembly in his petition.

“You cannot eat your cake and have it. You cannot strangulate a company that has over 3000 staff, going from panel to panel for over ten months and cannot publish the report. You cannot be a judge in your own cause.

“It is interesting that Access Bank is the consignees of all the cargoes. Every importation Capital Oil does we give to them. So, if Aig-Imoukhuede is accusing Capital Oil of being a fraudulent party, then it is all of us together,” he said.

PREMIUM TIMES had reported how Access Bank financed about 40 per cent of the petrol imported into Nigeria and how civil society groups questioned Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede’s credibility in heading the probe.

A string of denials

Mr. Ubah denied all the allegations leveled against his company, saying all the six cargoes of petroleum products credited to his company by the Mr. Aig-Imoukhuede-led Committee, for which letters of credit have been opened and bills of lading issued, were delivered; and subsidies on them collected and paid to Access Bank.

“Can you have a daughter without a mother, or a son without a father? It is not possible!” he insisted.

While denying having any direct business relationship or financial facility with Access Bank, Mr. Ubah said he, however, has an indirect link opened through its affiliate company, Oil Force, following a N900 million investment he made in January 3, 2011 as equity contribution in the development of the tank farm project.

“Access bank came to me in December 2010 to tell of their intention to sell another Igbo man’s tank farm close to my facility at Apapa as well as his house and other properties. I then went to the man to tell him of what I heard and the man confirmed that he was under tremendous pressure from Access Bank to sell his property and asked if I would be interested.

“I said I cannot buy the facility. But, if they (Access Bank) agree to my terms, I will bail the situation out. It was at this point that Dr Cosmas Maduka offered to help see how he can persuade Aig-Imoukhuede and Access Bank not to sell his assets and agree to my terms. After that we were able to remit to Access bank on January 3, 2011 the sum of N900 million.

“Maduka said he was the Chairman of Access Bank’s credit committee, and had brought Access Bank’s credit team to my office to show what the bank has been doing to other people. He came to market me for the bank. He said Access Bank finances 60 per cent of entire petroleum products importation in the country; that he will do business with me, if I will give him 40 per cent,” Mr. Ubah said.

They can’t refute our claims

According to Mr. Ubah, after he and his colleagues were branded oil subsidy scammers, they published a six-page rejoinder in some national dailies, which nobody refuted, adding that he was surprised that the next thing he was confronted with was the allegations by Mr. Maduka that his company defaulted in the delivery of products cargoes.

“The same money Cosmas Maduka is looking for is the same money that Aig-Imoukhuede is sitting on top investigating. I want to remind Nigerians that Access Bank has colluded with Dr. Cosmas Maduka to commit a fraud that is punishable under the BOFIA law, Section 20 of 2004.

“I have four petitions against Access Bank and their Managing Director, Aig Imoukhuede; Cosmas Maduka, Presidential Committee on Subsidy Verification and Ministry of Finance,” he said.

The capital Oil boss claimed that Access Bank is mentioned in the case because it has “committed a serious breach of fundamental human rights, gross misrepresentation, suppression and concealment of material facts, threat to life, fraud, deceit, infringement, gross violation of banking rules and regulations and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and an attempt to forcefully take over Capital Oil & Gas resulting in the non-payment of over N20 billion of our money still hanging in subsidy claims.”

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