Thursday, April 17, 2014

Arik, AIT, other alleged beneficiaries of Odili’s ‘stolen’ N100bn keep mum

Published:

The alleged beneficiaries will not refute or confirm if they accepted Odili’s ‘stolen’ funds.

All the parties involved or mentioned in the N100 billion allegedly stolen from the treasury of Rivers State by former governor, Peter Odili, as reported by citizen journalism outfit, Sahara Reporters, last Sunday, declined to comment on the alleged scam when contacted by PREMIUM TIMES.

Last Sunday, the New York based organisation, reported that it has obtained draft charges that were never presented in court and prepared by activist lawyer, Festus Keyamo, for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, during the tenure of Farida Waziri as the commission’ chairman.

The charges showed how Mr. Odili, using 24 other prominent government officials, media owners, and businessmen, carried out the widespread plundering of the state’s treasury.

Mr. Keyamo, who still represents the EFCC in several other corruption cases, did not deny that the charges existed or whether he did prepare them for the commission. He, however, declined to comment.

“I have no comment about it. You can find out from Lamorde (EFCC Chairman),” said Mr. Keyamo in a telephone chat with PREMIUM TIMES.

Just like Mr. Keyamo, the EFCC was also non-committal on the charges, neither confirming nor denying its authenticity.

The commission’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, said he cannot comment on the charge as the said charge was written during the tenure of Mrs. Waziri, immediate past chairman of the commission. When pressed for more details, Mr. Uwujaren referred us to Mr. Keyamo.

Arik, largest recipient keeps mum

The document shows that between January 2004 and December 2006, the Arik Air boss, Arumemi-Ikhide, received over N60 billion from the River State’s account, making the airline boss the largest beneficiary of the fraudulent sum.

Sources say Mr. Odili used the money to buy into Arik Air although he is not listed as one of the owners of the airline.

When PREMIUM TIMES asked Arik if it indeed received the money from the politician and what it was meant for, the airline’s spokesperson, Ola Adebanji, declined to comment.

For Daar Communications, mum is also the word

Just like the originators of the charges, the alleged beneficiaries of the state funds would also not comment.

The managements of media houses alleged to have benefitted from the slush fund refused to speak about their alleged involvement in the fraud.

According to the charge sheet, between 2004 and 2007, Mr. Odili gave about N2 billion to Raymond Dokpesi, founder of Daar Communications PLC, owners of AIT and Raypower FM. Over N300 million was given to Nduka Obaigbena, owner of Leaders and Company, publishers of ThisDay Newspapers while John Momoh, proprietor of Channels Television Ltd, allegedly collected N50 million. Newswatch Communications Limited allegedly got over N100 million.

Prominent editors, columnists and reporters were also alleged beneficiaries of Mr Odili’s stained fund.

Mr. Obaigbena did not answer his calls and refused to reply to text messages sent to his mobile telephone. Channels Television’s Controller of News, Ambrose Okoh, told PREMIUM TIMES that he is not aware of any money given to his organisation. He immediately disconnected the call and refused to answer subsequent calls made to his telephone number.

The Executive Director News of Daar Communications Plc, Imoni Amarere, would not respond to our enquiries on what the money the company got was meant for.

“I’m not Daar Communications spokesperson. Talk to the company’s public affair department,” he said in a telephone conversation.

The company didn’t respond to the email message sent to the public affairs department of the company through the address on its website was not responded to.

Sources say the money Mr. Odili gave to Daar was what helped the company survive during its financial crisis during the Obasanjo administration. It is not clear if the company knew the money was actually state funds.

Senior PDP members also implicated

Saharareporters stated that the 220-count draft indictment revealed how Mr. Odili and 24 others, including former People’s Democratic Party, PDP, national chairmen, Ahmadu Ali and Barnabas Gemade; former Minister of Aviation, Babalola Borisade; retired army general, Ike Nwachukwu, partook in misappropriating the funds. Others allegedly included are: Pauline Tallen, Olufemi Agagu, and a professor, Ukandi Damanchi.

Mr. Ali, Mrs. Agagu, Mr. Gemade and Mr. Nwachukwu allegedly got N20 million each.

Between September 2005 and 2006 over N4 billion was paid to Mr. Borisade in the guise the money would be used for the renovation of the Port Harcourt Airport, according to the document.

The affidavit shows that on March 3 and March 10, 2006, Mr. Odili withdrew $2 million (N300 million) for personal use claiming the money was meant to sponsor senior government officials for an overseas trip. Towards the end of his tenure in office, Mr. Odili allegedly intensified his looting. On March 16, 2007, he withdrew another $2 million under the same guise of sponsoring state officials for a foreign trip. A month later, on April 20, he did another withdrawal of $2 million for the same purpose, On May 23, 2007, six days before his tenure expired, Mr. Odili withdrew another $1 million, the document stated.

Also Mr. Odili, through an aide, Emmanuel Nkatah, posted to the state’s liaison office in Abuja, allegedly withdrew over N4 billion from the state’s Zenith Bank account No. 6010916567.

The name of businesses included in the charge sheet are Courage Communications Ltd, Attn Ltd, Ragolis Water Ltd, M/S Wetland Health Services Ltd, Transky Ltd, Foby Eng. Ltd, First Medical/Sterile Company Ltd, Habila Resources Ltd, Rockson Engineering Co. Ltd, Ojemai Farms Ltd, Ojemai Investments Ltd, and Godsonic Oil Company Ltd, an oil company owned by Peter Odili which also has business interests in the Nigeria/Sao Tome Joint Development Zone (JDZ) Block 4.

Perpetual injunction

In 2007, Mr. Odili obtained a perpetual injunction shielding him from prosecution or investigation for corruption by anti-graft agencies. The injunction was granted by Justice Nyaure Buba of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt. Mr. Buba has now been transferred to Lagos.

After Nigerians and the international community condemned the EFCC’S non-prosecution of Mr. Odili, the commission picked up gusto in prosecuting the former governor for the various allegations, and appealed against the injunction.

Five years after the appeal was filed, the Court of Appeal is yet to sit to hear the suit. Mr. Odili’s wife, Mary, was a judge of the Court of Appeal until February 2011, when President Goodluck Jonathan approved her promotion to a justice of the Supreme Court.

Group reacts

The Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, Debo Adeniran, said Mr. Odili treated the state treasury like a personal purse while he was governor. He said state funds went to “private hands” and Mr. Odili “presided over the sharing.”

Mr. Adeniran said he is not surprised that some media houses were alleged to have received some of the money:

“Most of the media houses are compromised. Remember Odili and Ibori (convicted ex-governor of Delta State) are major shareholders in many media houses. They own the largest percentage of media houses today. It is easy for money bags to buy them (media houses) over,” he said.

Mr. Adeniran exonerated Mr. Keyamo from any blame saying as a consultant he can only do what his client (the EFCC) directs him to do.

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