Wednesday, 15 June 2016

EFCC says, Oronsaye operated 66 illegal accounts, diverted N14bn pension fund


A prosecution witness, Rouqayya Ibrahim, told a Federal High Court in Abuja that the office of the Head of Service was operating 66 illegal accounts.

Ibrahim, an investigator with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), made this known when he testified in the trial of the former Head of Service, Stephen Oronsaye, in Abuja on Tuesday.

Led in evidence by the Prosecuting Counsel, Mr Adebisi Adeniyi, she said that it was also discovered that N14 billion had been stolen from the pension fund of the HOS.

“Sometime in 2010, EFCC and other anti-graft agencies were invited for verification of pension in the civil service, during that time, my colleagues discovered a payment mandate for payment of pensioners bearing 32 names.

“This was suspicious to them and based on that, they requested for further information on the mandate and the statement of account from the office of the Head of Service.

“It was confirmed that some of the names on that list were fake pensioners.

“Based on this, the EFCC instituted a pension fraud team to properly investigate activities of the Head of Service in terms of pension payments.

“I was drafted to be a part of the team along with 10 of my colleagues,’’ Ibrahim said.

The witness said that the team wrote letters to all the banks where the Head of Service had accounts with to furnish them with the statements of all the accounts operated by Head of Service for pensioners.

“Based on their replies and letters written from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, we discovered that the Head of Service was operating 66 illegal accounts.

“We also discovered that there were different modus operanda used by the pension office to syphon pensions fund into their account.

“We discovered that about N14 billion has been stolen from the Pension funds of the Head of Service.

“The modus operanda included payment made into accounts of different companies for illegal and non-existing contracts.

“Others were the use of ghost pensioners whereby names were inserted into pension payrolls and payments made to them even when they were not pensioners.

“Another was the National Union of Pensioners and the Association of Federal Civil Service Retirees, both received payments from the pension accounts which were illegal payments.

“For example, the National Union of Pensioners received over two billion naira from the pension account.’’

The witness said that the vast majority of the amount was withdrawn and handed over to one Shuaibu, who was also presently standing trial in one of the courts.
She said her team discovered through investigation that over N600 million was paid to several companies for biometric contracts.

Ibrahim, however, said this was with the exception of one company, which actually did some semblance of the contract.

“The company’s name is Innovative Solution and Uptrach Communications Limited. All the remaining payments were for non-existing contracts.’’

At a point in the course of her testimony, the witness requested that she be allowed to use a chart to illustrate her findings.

But this was objected to by the defence counsel on the grounds that using the charts would be against fair trial.

Mr Oluwale Aladedoye, counsel to Mr Osa Afe, the second defendant held that the witness should be able to give her evidence based on her findings without the use of a chart.

He added that the use of the chart would be prejudicial to the defence team and therefore urged the court to disallow the procedure.

The prosecuting counsel, however, said that the objection to the use of chart was misconceived as according to him, it is only meant to refresh the witness’s memory and not to be tendered as evidence.

“The essence of the document is to assist the court arrive at justice. There is nothing prejudicial in allowing the witness use the document to demonstrate the findings of her investigation.’’

The judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, held in his ruling that he shared the opinion of the defendants that tendering the chart would be prejudicial.

Kolawole added that he was however bordered by the position of the prosecution counsel that the chart was only intended to assist the witness demonstrate her findings.

He said that the witness did not appear to have a loss of memory but rather appeared clever and clear headed of evidence she was giving.
He, therefore, disallowed the use of the chart by the witness.

In continuation of her testimony, the witness attempted to give oral evidence of a statement made by the second defendant to the EFCC but was stopped by the judge.

The prosecuting counsel moved to tender the statement in court as evidence but it was objected to by the second defendant’s counsel.

The second defendant’s counsel based his objection to the admittance of the document on the grounds that the defendant made the statement through oppression.

According to him, the second defendant was induced, he was threatened, bundled and harassed to make the statement.

He added that he was ready to demonstrate his position if the court allowed a trial within trial.

In a brief ruling, Kolawale held that in view of the objection raised by the counsel to the second defendant on the admissibility of the defendant statement, a mini proceeding would be conducted .

He said the mini proceeding was referred to in other parlance as a trial within trial.

This is to allow the defence prove the allegation that his client was coerced into giving his statement.

Kolawale adjourned the case till June 21 for the trial within trial.

Oronsaye is standing trial for allegedly defrauding the Federal Government using his position as the then Chairman, Presidential Committee on Financial Action Task Force.

- NAN

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