Suspended SEC boss spent N1.7 billion on ‘golden handshake’ — Panel

Former Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, Munir Gwarzo. [Photo credit: Business Eye]
Former Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, Munir Gwarzo. [Photo credit: Business Eye]

The embattled former Director General of the Securities & Exchange Commission, SEC, Mounir Gwarzo, appears to be in more trouble as fresh allegations emerged Thursday that he spent over N1.7 billion on ‘golden handshake’ to some staff without due process and approval.

Also, filings with the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC and bank documents showed Mr. Gwarzo may have been economical with the facts about his relationships with the two private companies linked to him.

The latest allegation is coming barely 48 hours after an administrative panel of inquiry recommended his immediate dismissal from public service.

Mr. Gwarzo was said to have approved the payment of retirement benefits to 44 staff of the commission in 2015 without due process and approval of the Minister of Finance.

But, Mr. Gwarzo denied any wrongdoing, saying the latest allegations were part of a bouquet of accusations in the petition against him since January 2017 for which the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC had already cleared him.

“These are issues we went to ICPC and EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission). It is completely untrue there was any wrongdoing. We had approval of our Board for the virement for the Golden Handshake. Ask the SEC Board Secretary for the approval. Even the ICPC wrote to clear us,” Mr. Gwarzo told PREMIUM TIMES on Friday.

Mr. Gwarzo has been on suspension from office since November 2017 for allegedly paying himself about N104.9 million as severance package while still in office.

The payment was said to have breached paragraphs 313 and 316(4) of the Financial Regulations (Government Notice No. 219 of 27th October, 2009).

PREMIUM TIMES understands that ‘golden handshake’ is a euphemism for a package for staffers aged 45 years and above who desire to voluntarily disengage from service after a minimum of 10 years.

Mr. Gwarzo was accused of approving an extra-budgetary expenditure of over N1.7 billion for the disengagement package without it being included in the 2015 budget of the Commission, apart from approval by the Minister of Finance and the National Assembly.

Although a review of a copy of the Commission’s 2015 budget obtained by PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday confirmed no provision for the N1.7 billion expenditure, Mr. Gwarzo said fund was removed from another financial sub-head with the approval of the board.

“SEC does not require the approval of the Minister of Finance of its budget. The ISA (Investment and Securities Act 2007) puts the responsibility of approving the SEC budget on the Board, which is only required to send a copy to the Minister and the National Assembly. We have never taken our budget to the Ministry of Finance for approval, except where we do not have a Board,” he said.

“When I came into office I realized that the top management was very heavy and we needed to bring incentives for people to take and retire, to create room for fresh energy. Because government had stopped foreign training, we had to use the sub-head for foreign training and vire the funds there to pay the Golden Handshake, which was approved by the Board and the process.”

In all, two directors; 13 deputy directors; one general manager; five assistant directors; five senior managers; one principal senior supervisors; 13 managers; two senior supervisors and two supervisors benefitted from the payment.

Meanwhile, documents tendered before the panel of inquiry debunked the suspended DG’s claims on his relationship with the two private companies – Medusa Investments Limited and Outbound Investment Limited – linked to him.

In the report, Mr. Gwarzo had told the committee he had resigned as director of Medusa Investments Limited vide letter dated December 19, 2012.

He had also told the committee that he was only representing his wife’s interest in the other company, Outbound Investment Limited, which he said belonged to her family.

However, an application he sent to the Wuse Branch Manager, Guaranty Trust Bank, on July 24, 2015 requesting for a change of Account Officer for Medusa Investments Limited was signed by him in his capacity as the director of the Board of the company.

Besides, other documents also showed that Mr. Gwarzo had on August 16, 2016 used the company’s official headed-paper to request for the issuance of Naira Mastercards on Medusa Investments Limited’s account for him and the wife, Khadijat, the two directors indicated in the CAC registration filing.

A review of the account statement belonging to Outbound Investment Limited with the United Bank for Africa, UBA showed evidence of payments from the Commission for various contracts, including supply of diesel for as recent as April 2017 when he was still the DG.

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