By Tobi Soniyi, Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos and Chineme Okafor in Abuja
How funds for covert operation were recovered from safe house
• EFCC raids Nnamdi-Ogbue’s Abuja home, quizzes her over expropriated petrol
• Lawyer, family deny she owns funds and apartment
• NNPC confirms sack of officials over missing products
In a bizarre twist that got many in government circles expressing shock at the reckless breach of security protocol, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Thursday got a Federal High Court in Lagos to grant a temporary forfeiture of the sums of $43,449,947, £27,800 and N23,218,000 (totalling $43.6 million or N13.3 billion) belonging to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
NIA, a highly secretive organisation in Nigeria’s security circles, is the government agency that oversees foreign intelligence and counterintelligence operations in the country.
With the forfeiture order on the cash recovered by the commission from an apartment in the Ikoyi area of Lagos State on Wednesday, EFCC got the court to temporarily seize monies that were meant for an ongoing covert operation and had been hidden in a safe house back to the government coffers.
The court order also came on the heels of the raid by EFCC operatives on the Abuja residence of the former Managing Director of NNPC Retail, Mrs. Esther Ogbue, and her invitation to the commission’s office for interrogation over the expropriation of NNPC’s petroleum products stored in Capital Oil and Gas Limited and MRS Oil Plc’s facilities in Lagos.
As of press time, it was uncertain if Nnamdi-Ogbue who went to the commission in the company of her lawyer, Mr. Emeka Etiaba (SAN), had been released.
On Thursday, it was erroneously reported that the cash haul discovered in Apartment 7B, No. 16 Osborne Road, Ikoyi, belonged to her.
However, her lawyer and a member of her family who spoke to THISDAY strenuously, denied that she owns the apartment and cash found in it, disclosing that she and her family reside in Apartment 2B in the same luxury sky-rise complex, known as Osborne Towers, where the cash was discovered.
THISDAY learnt that the cash had been stashed away in the apartment by NIA for a covert operation but was shocked on Wednesday when news broke that its operation had been compromised by the acting Chairman of the EFCC Ibrahim Magu and his personnel.
Opening up on how the raid of the apartment occurred and what transpired subsequently, a security official revealed that when the EFCC officials got to Osborne Towers, they were confronted by three or four NIA operatives who showed them their ID cards and confirmed that “property” in the said apartment belonged to the NIA.
“However, they were ignored and excitable Magu and his operatives went ahead to move the cash found in the apartment and made a great show of the discovery of another cash haul.
“When the Director General of the NIA, Ambassador Ayodele Oke, got wind of what had happened, he immediately got in touch with Magu and informed him that the money belonged to his agency and their cover had been blown by the action of the EFCC.
“All Magu said to him was ‘okay I have heard’, and took no action to correct his mistake.
“When Magu remained unyielding, the DG asked him to inform Mr. President that the funds belong to the NIA and were meant for an ongoing covert operation.
“We don’t know if Magu eventually reported the incident to the president, but we know that Mr. President has instructed that the funds should be returned to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN),” the security source revealed.
He said that President Muhammadu Buhari also instructed that the NIA should reapply for the funds, which shall now have to go through appropriation at the National Assembly.
“Right now, the intelligence community is shocked at Magu’s blunder, which he made worse by trying to ascribe the funds to that NNPC woman who knew nothing about it,” the source added.
Court Orders Forfeiture
The court, in its ruling on Thursday by Justice Muslim Hassan, ordered that the funds be temporary forfeited to the federal government.
The judge also adjourned till May 5, 2017 for anyone interested in the funds to show up before him to show cause why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the government.
The judge made the forfeiture order shortly after entertaining an ex parte application by the counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo.
Moving the application, Oyedepo told the court that no one had come forward to claim it, adding that the staff of one AM Facilities managing the apartment building, where the huge sums were found could not provide the anti-graft agency with information on the possible owner of the money.
He urged the judge to exercise the power conferred on him by Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offence Act to order the interim forfeiture of the money to the federal government.
“We received an intelligence report that No.16, Osborne Road, Osborne Towers, Flat 7B had in it various sums of money that we are seeking to forfeit.
“The intelligence was acted upon and on getting there, we executed Exhibited EFCC1, which is a search warrant. As God would have it sir, we were able to recover $43,449,947; still in the same flat we also recovered £27,800. That was not all, we were also able to recover N23,218,000.
“For security reasons and because of the volume, we did not want to bring the money before my lord but we have registered it as an exhibit with the exhibit keeper and the evidence is contained in Exhibit EFCC 04.
“Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act empowers my lord that, where a property is found to be an unclaimed property or where a property is found to be the proceeds of an unlawful activity, to forfeit such property in the interim,” Oyedepo said.
He pointed the judge’s attention to a portion of the court papers where the commission had stated under oath that “no one had approached the commission to claim the said money with reasonable evidence confirming the authenticity of the origin of the money that we are seeking to forfeit in the interim”.
“I, therefore, humbly and most respectfully urge my lord to forfeit this money to the federal government, pending when anyone who has the mind to come and claim the money,” the lawyer added.
After listening to him, Justice Hassan, in a short ruling, said in view of the facts placed before him he was “mindful of granting the interim reliefs sought by the EFCC”.
He also granted the anti-graft agency’s prayer to advertise or publish the interim forfeiture order in any national newspaper for any concerned party to see it.
He adjourned till May 5 for such a person to come before him to give reasons why the money should not be permanently forfeited to the federal government.
EFCC Raids Nnamdi-Ogbue’s House
But before the judge granted the interim forfeiture order, officials of the EFCC at about noon on Thursday raided the Abuja residence of Nnamdi-Ogbue who was retired last week.
According to THISDAY sources, when the operatives arrived her home with a cameraman who filmed the entire exercise, she was at home and co-operated with the commission’s officials some of whom were armed.
They were said to have searched her home thoroughly and found no cash or incriminating documents.
A source, however, revealed that they carted away her computer hard drive and copies of all official memos relating to the lifting of petroleum products stored in the depots of Capital Oil and MRS.
After the search, which lasted for hours, she was invited to the commission for interrogation.
The source expressed confidence that she would be released on Thursday, but it was impossible to ascertain if she went home last night.
Also, when THISDAY contacted a member of her family on Thursday, he vehemently denied that Nnamdi-Ogbue owns the Ikoyi apartment and cash found in it.
The family member, who preferred not to be named, told THISDAY that Nnamdi-Ogbue and her family occupy Flat 2B in the building and that her husband and son were in the apartment complex at the time of the EFCC raid on Wednesday.
“They were actually at home yesterday (Wednesday), when they heard that EFCC officials were in the building. Tony, her husband, had a slight fever and was at home with his son.
“No one ever came to their apartment at the time of the raid and I can confirm that Esther is in Abuja as we speak,” the family source said.
Another source close to her linked her travails to the fact that she had reported the unathorised sale of petroleum products belonging to NNPC by Capital Oil and MRS, to the EFCC and Department of State Services (DSS).
The source said she had obviously stepped on some “very big toes”, hence the attempt to “deal with her”.
Nnamdi-Ogbue was appointed MD of the Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) in September 2015 and was redeployed a year later to head NNPC Retail by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, when he was still the Group Managing Director (GMD) of the state-run oil firm.
THISDAY had reported on Tuesday that she and three other officials of NNPC Retail had been recommended for retirement by a committee set up by the current GMD of NNPC, Dr. Maikanti Baru, to investigate the expropriation of NNPC’s products.
In line with the recommendation, she was given her letter of compulsory retirement on Tuesday.
Similarly, her lawyer, in a statement on Thursday denied the allegations that the huge cash found in Ikoyi and the apartment belonged to her, saying that she was just as shocked as the rest of the public when news broke on the cash haul.
Etiaba said: “The attention of our client, Mrs. Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue has been drawn to the news making the rounds in the news media to the effect that the large sums of money to wit: $38,000,000 (sic), N23,000,000 and £27,000 uncovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes from an apartment in Osborne Towers, Osborne Road, Ikoyi Lagos, Lagos State belong to her.
“By this press release, we inform the public (especially the news media) that the said sums of money and/or the apartment where the sums of money were found do not belong to our client.
“Our client is as shocked as many other Nigerians at the uncovering and recovery of the said sums of money and wishes to salute the courage and efforts of the EFCC in the war against corruption.
“She also wishes to commend the whistle blowing policy introduced by the federal government in the fight against corruption which policy has resulted in large scale uncovering and recovery of monies and assets.
“It is our client’s belief that the source and ownership of the said uncovered sums of money are known or eventually will be known by the EFCC in due course. There is therefore no need for conjecture or speculation.
“May we finally implore the news media to be more circumspect in their publications.”
Who Owns What in Osborne Towers
Meanwhile, Osborne Towers which was developed by the former governor of Bauchi State and ex-National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Adamu Mu’azu, is known to have high profile occupants, including two other former governors of South-east and South-south states, who bought the flats from Mu’azu and the developer off-plan when it was still under construction.
Other high profile occupants of the building include Mr. Damien Dodo (SAN), a former presidential aide in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, a media owner, and the son of a technology business mogul.
During the construction of the 12-storey building by the construction firm Cappa D’Alberto a few years ago, the apartments were marketed by Mrs. Udo Maryanne Okonjo, the Chief Executive of Fine & Country West Africa, a real estate firm that specialises in the sale and lease of high-end properties in Lagos and Abuja.
A source with knowledge of the ownership of Apartment 7B, in which the money was kept, said it was initially bought by Bishop Dale Investment Limited, but later sold to Chobe Ventures Limited, the current owner of the flat. At the time the cash discovery was made, the flat was unoccupied, THISDAY confirmed.
Another source close to Mu’azu further confirmed that about 90 per cent of the apartments have long been sold, while the former PDP chieftain retains the penthouse on the 12th floor in the building.
The latest cash haul is reminiscent of a similar discovery, last February, of $9.7 million in the Kaduna home of the former GMD of NNPC, Dr. Andrew Yakubu.
NNPC Confirms Sack of Officials
In a related development, NNPC on Thursday confirmed the sack and deployment of its officials over the unauthorised sale of 82 million litres of petrol valued at N11 billion by Capital Oil.
The corporation said in a statement from its spokesman, Mr. Ndu Ughamadu, that the sack and deployment were in line with the ongoing reforms it initiated to cleanse it of corruption.
Ughamadu explained that those affected included Nnamdi-Ogbue, who was the Managing Director of NNPC Retail before her dismissal from the corporation’s services; Mr. Alpha Mamza, who was Executive Director, Operations of NNPC Retail; and Mr. Oluwa Kayode Erinoso, who was Manager, Distribution of NNPC Retail.
He said the trio of Mr. Adeyemi Adetunji, Mr. Lawal Bello and Mrs. Affiong Akpasubi had also been appointed to replace the sacked staff as Managing Director of NNPC Retail, Executive Director, Operations NNPC Retail, and Executive Director, Services NNPC Retail, respectively.
Also appointed was Mr. Agwandas Andrawus to head the distribution department of NNPC Retail.
Ughamadu stated that the sacks and appointments would take immediate effect.
He said until his new assignment as the MD of NNPC Retail, Adetunji was the General Manager, Strategy and Planning, Gas and Power and also former General Manager, Transformation Office in the corporation.
He quoted the GMD of NNPC to have charged the deployed staff to remain committed to their duties in line with the transformation aspirations of NNPC.
NNPC recently uncovered a breach in its throughput transactions with MRS and Capital Oil. It disclosed that it lost about 130 million litres of petrol it kept in the storage facilities of the firms as strategic reserves, adding that they sold the products without its approval.
While it launched an investigation into the development, NNPC subsequently announced that MRS had returned the products it sold from its stock, but Capital Oil was yet to refund its 82 million litres of petrol valued at N11 billion.
Insisting that it would recover the products despite counter claims by Capital Oil that the corporation owed it for past business transactions, Baru had pledged that NNPC would in addition to investigating the breach, set up new modalities to guide its engagement of throughput partners, as well as take punitive actions against parties involved in the anomaly.