$2.1b deals: Ex-Army chief Minimah refunds N1.7b

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…As Jonathan’s wife, banks trade blame over funds trapped in 10 accounts***

Former Chief of Army Staff Gen. Kenneth Minimah (retd) has refunded about N1.7billion to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), The Nation learnt at the weekend.

Besides, there were indications that another former Chief of Army Staff and some ex-military officers might be arraigned in court for alleged corrupt practices relating to “phoney” arms contracts.

The legal unit of the EFCC is fine-tuning charges against the suspects.

But a status report on Gen. Minimah, who was the Army Chief from January 2014 to July 2015, indicates that he has returned some cash to the EFCC.

The refund followed extensive investigation by the anti-graft agency on the report and recommendations of the Presidential Committee on Audit of Defence Equipment Procurement (CADEP).

CADEP had uncovered “irregularities” in the procurement and award of contracts in the Army   and suspicious transactions in the accounts of the Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) during Gen. Minimah’s tenure.

A top source, who spoke in confidence, said: “We have interrogated Gen. Minimah and he has started refunding some funds. So far, he has refunded about N1.7billion in two tranches to the EFCC.

“So far, he has cooperated with us and we are hopeful that he will still make more refunds, in line with some contracts awarded by the Army.

“But we are likely to arraign another Chief of Army Staff and some ex-military officers in court soon following the conclusion of a comprehensive investigation on them. We are expecting relevant advice from our legal unit.”

The CADEP panel had observed that  a company was registered on November 17, 2014 and awarded $125,179,299.10 on the same day.

The report said in part: “ “The Nigerian Army, between April and August 2014, entered into four contract agreements with Societe D’Equipmenteux Internationale (SEI Nig Ltd) for procurement of Cobra Armoured Personnel Carriers, Shilka Self-Propelled Artillery Guns, Armoured Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) as well as various ammunition and spares funded by the ONSA.

“The contracts for the Cobra APCs and Shilka Guns were not executed as they were not funded. However, the costs for procurement of the AFVs; ammunition and spares were $398,550,000.00 and $484,765,000.00 respectively totalling $883,315,000.00.

“In November 2014, the ONSA awarded contract to Conella Services Limited for procurement of 72 various arms and ammunition that included MRAP vehicles and Mi-17 helicopter at the cost of $125,179,299.10.

“The Committee observed that the company was registered in Nigeria on 17 November 2014 and awarded the contract on the same date while the EUC for the procurement was issued a day later, on 18 November 2014. Furthermore, the ONSA paid $36,996,530.00 and N2,209,582,296.00 to the vendor between November 2014 and 15 April 2015.  However, the Nigerian Army denied receipt of any procurement from Conella Services Ltd.

“Similarly, the Committee tried in vain to reach officials of the company to confirm execution of the contract. There is, therefore, the need for further investigation of Conella Services Ltd.

“The committee observed that SEI and its two associated companies, APC Axial Ltd and HK-Sawki Nig Ltd, were incorporated in May 2014 with two Nigerien brothers, Hima Aboubakar and Ousmane Hima Massy, as the only directors.

“ Between May 2014 and March 2015, the ONSA mandated CBN to release various sums totalling $386,954,000.00 to SEI and the two associated companies for ‘procurement of technical equipment’, without tying the money to particular items of procurement.

Meanwhile, Former First Lady Patience Jonathan, some firms and groups linked to her and their bankers are engaged in a blame game over their inability to retrieve huge sums trapped in the banks in the wake of a freezing order obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Mrs. Jonathan, the firms and groups accused the banks – First Bank, Skye Bank and Diamond Bank – of withholding their funds despite an order of court vacating the freezing order. But the banks argued that the way the ex-First Lady and others sought to retrieve the trapped funds violated existing financial regulations.

The firms and groups include: Incorporated Trustees of Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation, Fagmat Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited, Finchley Top Homes Limited, AM PM Global Network Limited and Magel Resort Limited.

Others are: Incorporated Trustees of Women for Change and Development Initiative Nigeria, Seagate Property Development Investment Company, Globus Integrated Services and Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited.

Although the total amount involved could not be immediately ascertained at the weekend, some documents filed before the Federal High Court, Abuja revealed the distribution of the accounts.

Mrs. Jonathan is said to own the account marked:  2022646664 with First Bank, with a balance of about $3.6million ($3,626, 273.71). Globus Integrated maintains account: 210002269 domiciled in Skye Bank.

Incorporated Trustees of Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation, Fagmat Oil and Gas Nigeria Limited, Finchley Top Homes Limited, AM PM Global Network Limited and Magel Resort Limited are said to maintain accounts: 0024351569, 0026838491, 0019213687, 0026718889, 0024351590 with Diamond Bank.

Also, the Incorporated Trustees of Women for Change and Development Initiative Nigeria is said to maintain three accounts: 0035481691, 0025879578 and 0019213632 with Diamond Bank.

Mrs. Jonathan, the firms and groups are contending that the banks’ alleged refusal to release the money amounted to flouting the December 5, 2017 order of a Federal High Court in Abuja, vacating the freezing order got by the EFCC on May 30, 2017.

They subsequently initiated contempt proceedings against the banks’ heads, who they accused of disobeying the December 5, 2017 order by Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which was to the effect that the freezing order obtained by the EFCC on the affected accounts has lapsed.

Mrs. Jonathan, the firms and groups stated, in a supporting affidavit filed with the committal application, that they attempted to make withdrawals from the accounts after the December 5, 2017 order, but were denied access to the accounts by the banks.

They added: “The respondents/contemnors all refused to obey the court order and thus, bluntly refused to pay the applicants or allow them operate their accounts. Despite the service of the orders and Forms 48 and 49 of this court on the respondents/contemnors, they have bluntly refused to obey the orders of this honourable court.”

They prayed the court to commit the bank chiefs to prison for “the persistent and flagrant disobedience of the order of this honourable court made on the 5th of December 2017 in suit No: FHC/CS/821/2016 between Incorporated Trustees of Ariwabai Aruera Reachout Foundation and 10 others vs. EFCC.”

Nation