Nigerians recently learnt of an explosive report the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission forwarded to President Muhammadu Buhari about alleged corrupt practices by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki.
In the report to the president, the EFCC detailed how Saraki – in connivance with his aides and associates – allegedly laundered N3.5 billion traced to the Paris Club loan refund to states.
Investigators say Mr. Saraki enlisted the service of a consultant, Robert Mbonu of Melrose General Services Limited, and Kathleen Erhimu, a staff of Access Bank to liaise with his aides and associates to launder the fund.
When allegations of diversion of parts of the over half a trillion naira Paris Club refund money emerged in February, sparking nationwide controversy, state governors denied misusing the money, and slammed the EFCC reported probe as “unwarranted attack on the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, its officials and associated entities”.
Mr. Saraki swiftly dismissed reports linking him to the money as “concocted”, and accused the EFCC acting head, Ibrahim Magu, of being the source of its leak.
But the report to President Buhari, seen by PT, provides details of a complex web of questionable money transfers, which investigators say ended up in the pocket of the Senate president.
The report, as well as interviews with officials, also offers some response to the widely-asked question of how Mr. Saraki allegedly became linked to the funds, despite not being a governor. State governors were the direct recipients of the money on behalf of their states.
Paris Club Loan Refund
The Nigerian government reached a debt relief deal with Paris Club in 2005, and paid $6.2 billion to guarantee a debt relief of up to $18 billion, according to the to Debt Management Office.
But not long after the deal was reached, some states and local governments began raising questions about possible over-deductions of their share of the loan repayment. They argued that the deducted amount did not reflect their actual borrowings from Paris Club between 1995 and 2002.
Many states initially hired consultants to help pursue a refund, but later resolved to engage a consortium of consultants for coordination.
Reconciliation of accounts and negotiations established that over-deductions took place, but states were unsure of how much each state or local government was overcharged.
The complex account reconciliation reportedly made it difficult for the previous governments of Olusegun Obasanjo, Umar Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan, to settle the matter.
However, the current Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, said records showed some states received some refund under previous administrations.
To help states pay workers and retirees, Mr. Buhari, who took office two years ago, continued the reconciliations.
As the reconciliation process was still ongoing, the government pegged initial payments at 50 percent of the estimated excess to the claimants, Mrs. Adeosun said.
The payments were not budgeted for by the federal government
meaning they did not receive the constitutionally-required authorization of the National Assembly.
State governors were the direct recipients of the money on behalf of their states.
Last December, the Ministry of Finance commenced transfers to states. All 36 states received between N4 billion and N15 billion.
Sources familiar with the deal told PT that shortly before the ministry commenced transfer after all paperwork had been completed, governors decided to warehouse some of the money – about N17 billion – in the Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
According to the sources, the governors hoped to use the money to settle consultants who worked for the refund.
The governors also anticipated a backlash from the National Assembly which might have complained because the refund was not captured in either the 2016 or 2017 budgets.
Saraki, aides, associates and the coincidence
In its report, the EFCC highlighted a number of coincidences in the disbursement of the N3.5 billion and past activities of Mr. Saraki.
The EFCC report did not say Mr. Saraki personally moved some of the N3.5 billion.
But while tracking the money, anti-graft detectives found a consistent pattern in the individuals named in the alleged money laundering scheme.
For instance, Mr. Makanjuola, Mr. Saraki’s Deputy Chief of Staff, featured prominently in the alleged laundering of the N3.5 billion.
Mr. Makanjuola once served as a lawmaker from Kwara State.
Last week, he was named in an ongoing corruption case by a former research institute provost who said he gave Mr. Makanjuola and other federal lawmakers a gratification to the tune of N50 million.
Mr. Mbonu, whose firm received the N3.5 billion as “consultancy payment” from NGF, worked at the defunct Societe Generale Bank owned by Mr. Saraki’s family.
Similarly, Tunde Morakinyo, who was named in the report as having allegedly conveyed money for Mr. Saraki in 2014, was a longtime aide to the Senate President.
Past assignments Mr. Saraki was believed to have engineered for Mr. Morakinyo included recommending him as an aide to public officials from Kwara State so as to keep tab on their activities and report back to his principal.
PT identified Mr. Morakinyo as a front for Mr. Saraki in this newspaper’s Panama Papers series published last year.
Mr. Morakinyo helped Mr. Saraki conceal substantial amount of money in secret offshore tax havens.
Mr. Saraki also had a history with Dantani Abubakar, whom the EFCC identified as the bureau de change operators whose services were engaged in the deal.
In December 2015, the State Security Service announced the arrest of its personnel who allegedly robbed a bureau de change operator in Abuja of N310 million.
But the secret police was silent on the identity of the victim.
SR later identified Mr. Dantani as the owner of the fund and detailed how he allegedly served as a regular money changer for Mr. Saraki.
Asides the individuals named, the EFCC also said it established that parts of the N3.5 billion ended up in local and foreign bank accounts allegedly operated by Mr. Saraki.
Although detectives linked the principal actors to the Senate President, and showed how parts of the money were distributed, they did not say why the NGF would pay Mr. Saraki such an amount.
But they clearly told President Buhari that the NGF paid Mr. Mbonu’s Melrose Services N3.5 billion for onward disbursement to Mr. Saraki – not because the firm rendered any service that was commensurate with such a large payout.
Investigators now believe the money was intended as bribes to senators to stop any possible legislative enquiry into the Paris Club loan refund.
Law enforcement sources said the National Assembly has uncharacteristically kept quiet about the Paris Loan refund despite the fact that it was not budgeted for.
Some of the sources said Mr. Makanjuola was assigned to distribute the money to senators.
In its report about the bureau de change robber incident, SR said Makanjuola allegedly coordinates Saraki’s bribe to lawmakers.