The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is requesting, for its interrogation, the release of three officials of the Rivers State Government, who are implicated in the alleged illegal withdrawal of N118billion public funds.
Their action is said to be a contravention of the Money Laundering Act.
The cash was allegedly withdrawn by the Director of Finance, Government House, Fubara Siminalayei, Tonye Uranta, and Harisonba Princewill over the counter in suspicious manner.
One of the officials allegedly withdrew over N70billion in cash, about 129 times over a period of three years.
The Rivers State Government is alleged to be shielding them from reporting to the EFCC for interrogation.
The state government cites a perpetual injunction obtained in 2007 barring the EFCC from probing its accounts.
It was gathered that the cash withdrawals were made between 2015 and 2018 with Siminalayei alone allegedly collecting over N70billion over the counter about 35 times in 2016 and 94 times in 2017.
The same suspect allegedly withdrew N16.297billion from the bank in cash in 2015.
Some of the withdrawals from the counter include the following cash payments by Siminalayei: N750m((9/1/16); N830m(11/4/16); N930m(11/7/16); N980m(10/11/16); N850m(7/11/2016); N980m(10/11/16); N550m(11/11/16); N700m (13/1/17); N680m(7/3/2017); N630m (12/5/17); N800m (2/1/2018);N500m(15/5/17); N750m(18/1/18); N760m(22/1/18); and N925m(3/2/2018) among others.
Suspicious withdrawals linked to Uranta are: N522m on May 9, 2016; N1.3b (9/6.16); N500m (20/9/16); and N600m (22/9/16).
About N150million cash withdrawal was traced to Princewill on May 31, 2017.
A source said all the withdrawals were beyond the threshold set for cash transactions in the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011.
The source said the huge cash payments were made from the Government House account and the Federation Account Allocation remittances account domiciled in Zenith Bank.
Investigation revealed that Fubara Siminalayei was the Director of Finance in Government House when all these transactions took place.
The EFCC had requested for the accounts of the state government and profiled all those involved.
A top official of the EFCC, who spoke with our correspondent, said: “We went to the houses of these three officials to serve them invitation letters but they refused to collect it. The security guards in their personal residences said they were under instructions not to collect any letter from EFCC.
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“Our team has been searching for them but we are yet to locate them.”
Asked why the officers have not reported for interrogation, the source added: “The state government has been referring to the March 23, 2007 ruling by Justice Ibrahim Nyaure Buba who granted all declarative and injunctive reliefs sought by the State Government.
“Rivers State claimed that the court order was explicit that the EFCC cannot probe the accounts of Rivers State Government and its officials. The state has remained adamant in its decision not to release the three suspects. It also claimed that it has filed a suit in court against the EFCC over the ongoing investigation.
“So far, our investigation continues. But we have interacted with some officials of Zenith Bank. We are probing whether or not the bank made Suspicious Transaction Report in line with Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011.
The Act reads in part: “Special surveillance on certain transactions.
“6. (1) Where a transaction –
(a) involves a frequency which is unjustifiable or unreasonable;
(b) is surrounded by conditions of unusual or unjustified complexity;
(c) appears to have no economic justification or lawful objective; or
(d) in the opinion of the Financial Institution or Designated Non-Financial Institution, involves terrorist financing or is inconsistent with the known transaction pattern of the account or business relationship, that transaction shall be deemed to be suspicious and the Financial Institution involved in such transaction shall seek information from the customer as to the origin and destination of the fund, the aim of the transaction and the identity of the beneficiary.
(2) A Financial Institution or Designated Non-Financial Institution shall within 7 days after the transaction referred to in subsection (1) of this section –
(a) draw up a written report containing all relevant information on the matters mentioned in subsection (1) of this section together with the identity of the principal and where applicable, of the beneficiary or beneficiaries;
(b) take appropriate action to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of a crime or an illegal act; and
(c) send a copy of the report and action taken to the Commission.
(3) The provisions of subsections (1) and (2) of this section shall apply whether the transaction is completed or not.
(4) The Commission shall acknowledge receipt of any disclosure, report or information received under this section and may demand such additional information as it may deem necessary.
(5)(a)The acknowledgement of receipt shall be sent to the Financial Institution or Designated Non-Financial Institution within the time allowed for the transaction to be undertaken and it may be accompanied by a notice deferring the transaction for a period not exceeding 72 hours.
(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection, the Chairman of the Commission, the Governor of the Central Bank or their authorized representative shall place a Stop Order, not exceeding 72 hours, on any account or transaction if it is discovered in the course of their duties that such account or transaction is suspected to be involved in any crime.
(6) If the acknowledgement of receipt is not accompanied by a stop notice, or where the stop notice has expired and the order specified in subsection (7) of this section to block the transaction has not reached the Financial Institution or Designated Non-Financial Institution, it may carry out the transaction.
(7) Where it is not possible to ascertain the origin of the funds within the period of stoppage of the transaction, the Federal High Court may, at the request of the commission, or others persons of authority duly authorized in that behalf, order that the funds, accounts or securities referred to in the report be blocked.
An order made by the Federal High Court under subsection (7) of this section shall be enforced forthwith.
“Limitation to make or accept cash payment.
1.No person or body corporate shall, except in a transaction through a financial institution, make or accept cash payment of a sum exceeding –
(a) N5,000,000.00 or its equivalent, in the case of an individual; or
(b) N10,000,000.00 or its equivalent in the case of a body corporate.
(1) A transfer to or from a foreign country of funds or securities by a person or body corporate including a Money Service Business of a sum exceeding US$10,000 or its equivalent shall be reported to the Central Bank of Nigeria, Securities Exchange Commission or the Commission in writing within 7 days from the date of the transaction.
(2) A report made under subsection (1) of this section shall indicate the nature and amount of the transfer, the names and addresses of the sender and the receiver of the funds or securities.”