Wike locks horns with EFCC over fresh probe into Rivers’ finances

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Niyi Odebode, Chukwudi Akasike, Eniola Akinkuotu and Ifeanyi Onuba

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is investigating the Rivers State Government for alleged cash withdrawals totalling N117bn.

The PUNCH gathered on Sunday that the withdrawals from the account of the state government were made in the last three years.

 A top official of the commission, who confided in The PUNCH on Sunday, said the “curious”withdrawals violated the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.

He stated, “In all, we are investigating cash withdrawals totaling N117bn from the Rivers State accounts in the last three years. The manner the money was withdrawn was suspicious.”

The EFCC source, who cited some of the withdrawals, which he said were curious, said 45 different cheques were issued in the name of one person on June 8, 2015.

According to him, a total of N450m were withdrawn from the state government account in the Zenith Bank that day.

He also gave an example of total withdrawal of N500m on June 9, 2015 through 50 different cheques.

The PUNCH learnt that the commission was on the trail of four different suspects over the suspicious withdrawals from the Zenith Bank by the Rivers State Government.

It was gathered that the EFCC would this week invite the Director of Finance and Administration in the Rivers State Government House, Similari   Fubura, for interrogation over the withdrawals.

The EFCC source said some senior members of staff of the Zenith Bank were invited by the commission last week, but he could not confirm the exact date of the invitation and whether they had honoured it.

The Head, Corporate Communications of Zenith Bank, Mr Victor Adoji, could not be reached for comments.

Calls sent to his mobile number did not go through while a text message sent to him had yet to be responded to as of 8.30pm.

Wike dares EFCC, says no Rivers official will appear before it

But the Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has declared that no official of the Rivers State Government will appear before the EFCC over what he called politically-motivated investigations until the commission approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the 2007 judgment barring the commission from investigating the state.

A statement on Sunday signed by the Special Assistant to the Rivers State Governor on Electronic Media, Simeon Nwakaudu, quoted Governor Wike as describing the alleged action of the EFCC as a political witch-hunt.

 “We are not afraid of their probe and they have no power to probe us. No government official will appear before the EFCC until they set aside the court judgment of Rivers State Government against them in 2007. We cannot be intimidated.

“They filed for leave to appeal the judgment at the Court of Appeal. Until they set aside the judgment, we will not come,” Wike insisted.

The governor pointed out that the media trial by the EFCC would amount to nothing, adding that the state government was aware of the move before it even started.

“We are aware of their tricks. They should not bother engaging in media trial because it will not work. This is a mere political witch-hunt. They must obey the rule of law. We have filed another action against the EFCC.

“Because they have been served, they are telling the Press that they have started investigating Rivers State Government. This media war by the EFCC will not work. We stand on the rule of law,” Wike added.

The statement, however, recalled that he had said that the recent freezing of Akwa Ibom and Benue states accounts by the anti-graft agency was targeted at Rivers State and added that the EFCC had already been detailed to carry out “very unconstitutional activities.”

Wike said, “There is no worse impunity than for the EFCC to shut down a tier of government through the freezing of the accounts of two state governments.

“An agency of Federal Government had frozen the accounts of Akwa Ibom and Benue State Governments. This is the worst coup against the constitution and the law-abiding people of those states.

“But the target is not Benue or Akwa Ibom states. The real target is Rivers State. The EFCC as a federal agency has no business with state funds. That is the responsibility of the state House of Assembly.”

According to Part 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, titled, ‘Limitation to make or accept cash payment,’   “No person or body corporate shall, except in a transaction through a financial institution, make or accept cash payment of a sum exceeding – (a)   N5,000,000.00 or its equivalent, in the case of an individual; or b)     N10,000,000.00 or its equivalent in the case of a body corporate.”

The act also states that “a transfer to or from a foreign country of funds or securities by a person or body corporate including a Money Service Business of a sum exceeding US$10,000 or its equivalent shall be reported to the Central Bank of Nigeria, Securities Exchange Commission or the Commission in writing within 7 days from the date of the transaction.”

Recall that The PUNCH had in June 2016 reported, based on a document obtained from the EFCC, that the agency might probe the Rivers State Government over suspected withdrawal of over N11bn from the government’s accounts.

According to the report, Fubara allegedly withdrew the funds from the government’s account with the Central Bank of Nigeria.

About N1.5bn was said to have been transferred from the state’s account with the CBN to the Zenith Bank Plc account that belongs to one Mr. Samuel Anya “on or about January 27, 2016.”

The EFCC document indicated that Fubara commenced the alleged suspicious withdrawals with N1bn on October 15, 2015 and followed by another N1bn six days later on October 21, 2015.

He was also said to have withdrawn N269m from the account on November 2, 2015; N300m on November 3, 2015, and N500m on November 4, 2015.

In December 2015, three of such withdrawals also took place with N200m withdrawn from the account on December 12; N240m on December 22 and N460m on December 23.

According to the document, Fubara also allegedly withdrew N6.1bn from the same Rivers State’s account between January 5, 2016 and February 9, 2016 in 11 tranches.

Five of the withdrawals, which took place in January, 2016, in the following order: N849.5m withdrawn on January 5, 2016; N300m on January 7, 2016; N250m on January 14, 2016; N750m on January 15, 2016, and N200m on January 22, 2016.

The rest of the six withdrawals in February, 2016 were N500m on February 1; N600m on February 2; N300m on February 4; N200m on February 5; N1bn on February 8; and N1.2bn on February 9.

Indicating the various sums of money was in cash withdrawal, the document stated that the money was “delivered and received by Mr Fubara.”

The source added, “We were also asked to investigate the withdrawal of N1.5bn on or about January 27, 2016, by one Mr Samuel Anya of 69B Forces Avenue, old GRA, Port Harcourt, Rivers State from the state’s account with CBN through the transfer of the money to his account 0248922015 with Zenith Bank.”

The fresh investigation into the Rivers State Government’s finances comes less than three weeks after the EFCC launched a full probe into the finances of Benue and Akwa Ibom states, temporarily freezing their accounts.

Rivers, Benue and Akwa Ibom states are all being ruled by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.

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