A prosecution witness has narrated how a former chairman, Pension Reform Task Force Team, (PRTFT), Abdulrasheed Maina, who is standing trial before a Federal High Court in Abuja, stole about N14 billion from pension accounts through several illegal payments to fake pensioners, non-existing contracts, and other pension reform unions.
The witness, Rouqayyah Ibrahim, an investigator with the EFCC, on Wednesday also told Justice Okon Abang, how a former Head of Service, Stephen Oronsaye, allegedly aided Mr Maina to divert some of the stolen funds through 66 bank accounts.
This development was revealed via a statement released by the EFCC.
The EFCC is prosecuting Mr Maina, who is on the run, alongside his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Ltd, on a 12-count charge of operating fictitious bank accounts, corruption, and money laundering to the tune of N2 billion.
Justice Abang had ordered the continuation of the trial in absentia of Mr Maina, after he failed to attend court proceedings since September 29 this year, with his counsel, Francis Oronsaye, claiming his client was ill.
A Nigerian senator, Ali Ndume, who stood surety for Mr Maina, was recently remanded in jail for failing to provide the suspect.
At the court hearing, the investigator, who is the ninth prosecution witness, told the court that part of the alleged fraud was discovered in 2010, after the EFCC was invited to join the pension verification exercise.
He said the commission discovered “a payment mandate, bearing the names of several individuals, totalling N94 million of which some of the pensioners’ names on the list were fake”.
The witness said an investigation by the commission, through its Pension Fraud Team found that “Abdulrasheed Maina was deeply involved in stealing those pension funds”.
“Our investigation revealed that there were five modus operandi that the suspect whom we were investigating at that time was used to steal money from the pension account. In total, we were able to deduce that N14 billion was stolen from the pension account,” he said.
The witness said, “in the five modus operandi was payment to fake pensioners, non-existing contracts, illegal payment to National Union of Pension (NUP) and illegal payment to another association called Association of Retired Federal Civil Servants.”
The witness also said Mr Maina paid pension funds into the private accounts owned by Mr Oronsaye, who headed the HoS Commission between 2009 and 2010.
The witness said this was discovered ”after the EFCC approached about 30 banks for account details linking the ex-head of HoS, in which it was discovered he operated 66 illegal bank accounts, that the Accountant General was unaware of”.
In 2014, PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported how the auditor-general indicted Mr Oronsaye for N123 billion allegedly diverted between 2009 and 2010 under his watch.
Mr Oronsaye is also standing criminal trial with Osa Afe and three other companies for alleged fraud in awarding purported contracts for non-existing biometric data capturing to the tune of N292 million.
Meanwhile, the EFCC investigator said: “part of what our investigation revealed was that the head of service, Mr Stephen Oronsaye, at that time was operating 66 illegal accounts”.
He told the court how Mr Maina opened various accounts with Fidelity Bank ”in the name of his son, sisters and sister-in-law and other members of his family.”
The witness said the findings were also confirmed by a second prosecution witness, Toyin Meseke, who is a Fidelity Bank staffer.
He said Mr Maina ”had complete control over the several accounts, though his name, signature and photograph did not appear anywhere in the account opening packages.”
The witness said findings revealed that an account with Fidelity Bank ”in the name of Nafisatu Aliyu Yeldu’s bears the name of Mr Maina’s sister with her passport, photograph on the face of it”.
“She informed us (EFCC) that she remembers at one point that Toyin Meseke (PW2), who is a Fidelity Bank staff requested for her PHCN (power utility) bill but she wasn’t sure what he wanted it for and that was one of the documents that were used in opening the account. She also informed us that when she started receiving alerts, she contacted Toyin Meseke and he promised to deal with the issue.”
According to the witness, “the turnover in Yeldu’s account was over N300 million”.
The witness said there was another case involving Drew Construction, which had the name of his (Maina’s) other sister, Fatima Abdullahi Aliyu, with a turnover of about N55 million all from cash deposits within a few months.”
“When she was confronted, it showed that she did not know the account, even though it bore her name and other similar information that belonged to her. The witness said.
“We called for the statement of Drew Construction and of his Fidelity Bank, and discovered the same modus by Maina, concealing and stealing the identity of his family members, registering companies in their names, opening a corporate bank account without their knowledge.”
“We also discovered from Common Input, a company registered by Maina and his wife, using the details of his sister (PW2), taking advantage of his sister-in-law, Mairo Bashir (PW1), who deliberately allowed Maina to conceal his identity without doing the ‘Know Your Customer’ and allowing him to operate the accounts as Fatima Abdullahi. When Fatima was invited, we confronted her that her BVN was linked to Common Input and Kongolo Dynamic Cleaning Services Ltd and she confirmed that she did not know about the existence of the company and that Maina requested her to give her BVN so that she will be removed as a signatory from the company and she wasn’t aware of being a signatory of any company but innocently gave them the BVN, believing that will make her stop being a signatory of the said company.”
Mr Abang, subsequently, adjourned the matter till December 3.
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