Ihuoma Chiedozie, Enugu
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has arrested two Enugu State commissioners in connection with an investigation into the $115m (N23bn) allegedly disbursed by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, during the buildup to the 2015 presidential election.
The two commissioners arrested on Wednesday were Charles Egumgbe and Rita Mba.
Egumgbe, who is the Commissioner for Water Resources, was the chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party Campaign Office in the state during the countdown to the presidential election in 2015, while the Commissioner for Tourism, Mba, was the secretary.
Apart from Egumgbe and Mba, the Chairman of the PDP in the state during the 2015 general election, Ikeje Asogwa, was also arrested by the anti-graft agency over the matter.
Asogwa is currently the chairman of the board of Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board.
EFCC zonal head, South-East zone, Johnson Babalola, confirmed the arrests while addressing journalists in Enugu on Wednesday.
Babalola revealed that Egumgbe, Mba and Asogwa were detained and later released on bail.
Responding to questions from journalists, Babalola said, “They were detained, they made statements and they were later released on bail.”
He added that the EFCC was still investigating a former Enugu State Governor, Sullivan Chime, who was alleged to have received N450m out of the N23bn allegedly disbursed by Alison-Madueke.
It will be recalled that when he was initially quizzed by the EFCC over the campaign funds, Chime reportedly told detectives that he handed over the money to the secretary of the campaign office, Mba, who was also the state’s Commissioner for Special Duties and Inter-Government Affairs at the time.
Reportedly, Chime further explained that the money was brought by two of his former commissioners, Joe Nmamnel, and Mba, in company with Asogwa and a PDP chieftain, Prof. Osita Ogbu.
The former governor was said to have stated that he gave the money to his orderly for safekeeping — with instructions that only Mba should have access to it to facilitate her work as the secretary of the campaign office.
But some officials of the state government declined to comment on the issue when our correspondent sought their views over the matter.
But a source close to the state government told our correspondent that since the EFCC was already investigating the matter, it should conclude its investigations first before going public with its findings.
The source added that the commissioners, in their statements to the EFCC, denied Chime’s claims that they were the ones who handled the campaign funds.
The source said the funds in question were not spent during the administration of Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.
Babalola added that the anti-graft agency was also investigating how about N450m of the N23bn was disbursed in Abia State.
Giving a summary of the commission’s activities in the South-East, Babalola said some companies linked to serving governors in the zone were under investigation — in connection with money laundering cases.
He disclosed that a total of 522 cases were currently under investigation in the zone, out of which 36 cases had been concluded and charged to court for prosecution.
The EFCC had secured 14 convictions in the zone since January 2016, he added.
Within the period, the EFCC had recovered about N244.5m, $955,465 and 10,000 euros in the South-East, while the sum of $130,750 was forfeited and paid into the coffers of the Federal Government.
In the same vein, Babalola revealed that a popular ‘wonder bank’ operator in Enugu, Chief Patrick Nwokike, who is the Chief Executive Officer of ‘Lets Partner With You,’ was in the custody of the commission in Enugu, alongside his wife.
Nwokike allegedly collected over N4bn from unsuspecting members of the public in a Ponzi scheme, collecting monthly percentages on the invested sum.
Babalola explained that the N4bn was found in two out of the 20 bank accounts identified and traced to the ‘wonder bank’ operator.
“It is suspected that a larger percentage of the funds was stashed in an offshore account,” he said, adding that efforts were ongoing to trace the said funds.
It was also discovered that the ‘wonder bank’ has branches across the country.
Explaining further, Babalola said, “The South-East zonal office of the EFCC has received over 150 petitions on the illegal financial dealings of the ‘wonder bank’ CEO and has swung into work, arresting the key suspect and the wife who is a co-signatory to the accounts.
“In the course of investigation, the zone identified three mansions and a multi-million naira warehouse which have been sealed and placed under investigation.
“Efforts are being intensified to trace other properties. Additionally, two exotic SUVs have also been recovered as the proceeds of crime.”
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