₦37.1bn fraud: Buhari’s minister arrives EFCC headquarters

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Former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, has arrived at the headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to meet with interrogators over an ongoing probe into the N37,170,855,753.44 allegedly laundered during her tenure in office, through a contractor, James Okwete.

It was confirmed that arrival of the ex-minister at about 10 am on Monday.

Meanwhile, at about 10:20 am, the former minister tweeted about her presence at the EFCC headquarters.

“I have, at my behest, arrived at the headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to honour the invitation by the anti-graft agency to offer clarifications in respect of some issues that the commission is investigating,” Umar-Farouq tweeted on Monday morning.

According to report that citing health challenges, the former Minister had earlier officially written to the EFCC, seeking an extension of the deadline to meet with EFCC interrogators over an ongoing probe into the N37,170,855,753.44 allegedly laundered during her tenure in office through a contractor, Okwete.

It was reported that Umar-Farouq faced arrest by operatives of the EFCC after failing to appear before interrogators at the EFCC Headquarters on Wednesday.

The former minister was asked to appear before investigators at the EFCC Headquarters in Jabi, Abuja, on Wednesday, January 3, 2024, at about 10:00 a.m. to give an account of the alleged monumental fraud that took place under her watch, a document exclusively seen by our correspondent on Saturday revealed.

Reacting to the development in an exclusive telephone interview with our correspondent on Thursday, the spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, said Umar had sent a legal representative to the commission and had written to the commission seeking to be given more time to honour the invitation while citing health challenges.

Oyewale said, “The former Humanitarian Minister didn’t appear before the commission yesterday, but she sent in a letter pleading for more time and also explaining that she has some health challenges and that was why she couldn’t honour the invitation. She also sent in her lawyer to meet with interrogators.

“However, the commission has mandated her to submit herself to the commission without further delay. We are still tracing all the transactions, hence we cannot put a figure to everything now as investigation is still ongoing.”

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It was also reported that Umar-Farouq kept interrogators waiting for over eight hours on Wednesday without an official communication to the commission as to why she didn’t honour the invitation.

Meanwhile, an impeccable senior anti-graft source revealed that Umar-Farouq might be arrested by operatives of the EFCC within the week if she fails to voluntarily appear before investigators at the EFCC’s headquarters as officially requested by the commission.

“Hajia Sadiya didn’t show up at our office today for interrogation. In fact she kept interrogatories waiting for hours. Meanwhile, our operatives may arrest her this week and bring her in for questioning if she fails to show up tomorrow,” the source revealed.

The EFCC invited the former minister to come to answer questions concerning an ongoing investigation into an alleged ₦37.1bn fraud uncovered in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.

The document partly read, “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, January, 2024. 10:00 am. This request is made pursuant to section 38 (I) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004 & section 21 of Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.”

It was earlier reported that the EFCC arrested a contractor, James Okwete, in connection with the ongoing probe into the N37.1bn allegedly laundered by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development under the former Minister, Umar-Farouq.

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

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

“It is not only Umar-Farouq 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.

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

Investigation 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 The PUNCH that Okwete, who is still being held at the EFCC Headquarters, Jabi, Abuja, had been cooperating with investigators.

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

The 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 was revealed that following receipt of the funds, Okwete transferred N6,746,034,000 to Bureau De Change Operators, withdrew N540 million in cash, purchased luxury cars with N288,348,600 and bought luxury houses in Abuja and Enugu State with N2,195,115,000.

So far, 53 companies have been 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 is also linked with 143 bank accounts in 12 commercial banks of which 134 accounts are corporate accounts linked to different companies.

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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 were linked to his Bank Verification Number as a signatory to the accounts.

The document revealed, “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.”

Meanwhile, 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.

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