Paris Club refund: Court freezes seven accounts linked to Governors’ forum

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…As Foreign investors buy out Nigerian shareholders in Seven-Up***

The Federal High Court in Abuja has frozen seven separate accounts which, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, were used by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum to launder the sum of N10bn said to be derived from the proceeds of the Paris Club refund.

Justice Gabriel Kolawole directed on Wednesday that the freezing order would last for 45 days within which the EFCC must either institute charges in respect of the transactions against the relevant suspects or apply to the court for an extension of the order.

The judge also gave seven days to the account owners, if interested in seeking the setting aside of the freezing order, to file an application which must be served on the EFCC.

The frozen accounts are  0002184449 with Jaiz Bank Plc and operated by HAD Properties Limited; 0025600864 with Guaranty Trust Bank Plc and operated by Hassan Ahmed Danbaba; as well as 0005892453 with Access Bank Plc and operated by Melrose General Services Coy.

They also include one Access Bank account,  0045824054 and another Zenith Bank Plc account 1010948906, both of which belong to Bina Consult and Integrated Services.

The rest are two Access Bank Plc accounts – 0700755576 and 0700946008 – belonging to Farouk Adamu Aliyu and Malam Alu Agro Allied Company Ltd., respectively.

EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Ben Ikani, had moved the ex parte application seeking the freezing of the accounts on November 27, following which Justice Kolawole adjourned till Wednesday for ruling.

The commission alleged that its preliminary investigation had revealed that the N10bn was fraudulently diverted by the NGF under the guise of paying consultancy fee to BizPlus GSCL Consortium which the Forum engaged “to carry out reconciliation of accounts and recover the amounts due to the states” from the refund of the over-deducted payment of Paris Club debt by the Federal Government from 1995 to 2002.

In an affidavit filed in support of the EFCC’s ex parte motion, a member of the Special Investigation Committee, set up by the commission to investigate the alleged Paris Club refunds scam, Osas Azonabor, alleged that preliminary investigation had revealed that the NGF caused the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay N19,439,225,871.11 into its account for onward payment to BizPlus as consultancy fee.

But the investigator stated that N10bn of the N19.4bn paid to the NGF account by the CBN was fraudulently disbursed to the seven accounts of companies and individuals, who were not part of the said BizPlus GSCL Consortium.

Detailing how the fraud was allegedly perpetrated, Azonabor alleged that the NGF had agreed to pay success fee of two per cent to BizPlus GSCL Consortium.

But the investigator alleged that upon the success of the recovery, rather than stick to the two per cent fee, the NGF caused the Central Bank of Nigeria to deduct five per cent, amounting to the N19.4bn.

He said, “That sometime in January 2017, the applicant (EFCC) received intelligence in respect of a case against the Nigerian Governors’ Forum alleging conspiracy, criminal misappropriation of public funds involving the sum of N19,439,225,871.11 out of the Paris Club refund made by the Federal Government in favour of the 36 states of the federation.

“That preliminary investigation conducted by the commission revealed that the 36 state governments, under the auspices of the NGF, engaged the services of Bizplus GSCL Consortium to carry out reconciliation of accounts and recover amounts due to the states from line charge made on them from 1995 to 2002 for a success fee of two per cent payable by the NGF.

“That investigation further revealed that contrary to the agreed fee of two per cent as stated in paragraph 6 above, NGF caused the Central Bank of Nigeria to deduct five per cent of the amount due to the states which amounted to the sum of N19.4bn (stated in paragraph 5 above) and paid the same into the NGF account, supposedly for onward payment to the Bizplus GSCL consortium.

“That our investigation of the case further revealed that a larger part of the amount stated in paragraphs 5 and 7 above was fraudulently disbursed by the NGF to individuals and corporate entities that were not part of the consortium.

In the meantime, Seven-Up Bottling  Company Plc has received an offer from its majority shareholder, Affelka, a privately-owned Lebanese firm,  to buy out the minority shareholders for N19.33 billion ($60 million).

Seven-Up said in a notice to the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, yesterday that Affelka has offered to buy all the outstanding and issued shares of Seven-Up that it does not currently own, amounting to 171.5 million ordinary shares at N112.70 per share.

The offer price, according to the company, represents 15 percent premium of N98.00 per share, the last traded price on August 9, 2017, being the last business date the proposal was received from Affelka and 18 percent premium on N95.50, its closing price at the close of trading yesterday. In his reaction, Sunil Sawhney, Vice Chairman, Seven-Up Bottling Company, said: “As of now, we have received an offer from the majority shareholder of the company.

It’s a financial restructuring,” He said the company has been making losses for some time, adding that the deal is aimed at restructuring the company. Sawhney, who joined the company in a management change this year, said delisting Seven-Up from the stock exchange after the takeover would be “logical”.

The takeover is subject to shareholders’ and regulatory approvals, he said. The company’s profit started to decline in the first three months of 2015 and then posted its first loss in half-year 2016 and since then losses have widened.

Punch with additional report from Vanguard