• Funds traced to foreign car dealership, offshore accounts
A serving governor is topping the list of suspects being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for an alleged N6,549,942, 637.14 fraud in an arms deal. Also under scrutiny are the immediate past governor of Kogi State, Captain Idris Wada, a former Chairman of Skye Bank, Mr. Tunde Ayeni, retired Air Vice Marshal Salihu Atawodi and four others.
The alleged fraud was perpetrated by the defunct Presidential Implementation Committee on Maritime Security (PICOMSS), which was headed by Atawodi. About N4.9billion cash was said to have from PICOMMS accounts without any specific project in mind.
The serving governor was alleged to have received N1, 475, 144,199.15 of the withdrawn cash for the purpose of lobbying members of the House of Representatives to convert PICOMS into an agency. The name proposed was Maritime Security Agency. The governor was chairman of the House Committee on National Security, Intelligence and Public Safety at the time and he was said to have convinced Atawodi’s PICOMS to part with the cash. The sum received was such a top secret that a former Speaker was given a “ridiculous N1million” as his share.
Some former members of the House of Representatives who benefitted from the bribe-for-bill cash from the governor might be invited for questioning,the Nation gathered last night. Sources said the governor was initially cooperating with the EFCC on the investigation, only to stop honouring the invitation of the anti-graft agency two days before he was declared elected by the Supreme Court. He currently enjoys immunity from prosecution by virtue of his office, but he may still face trial after his tenure. The remaining seven key suspects are expected to be arraigned in court soon.
They include Mrs. Winifred Atawodi; Aeroconsult Limited, Xanatos Limited and a daughter of the ex-PICOMMS chairman, Eleojo who is under investigation. The EFCC has already blocked the following amounts in Mrs. Winifred Atawodi’s accounts: N141, 611, 736.8 and $228, 428.16. Another N200million has been placed on Post No Debit (PND) in First Mutual Micro-Finance Bank traced to Purple Pepper Farms Limited allegedly owned by Atawodi’s daughter (Eleojo). About five hectares of land worth N245million have been seized from the Atawodis. The EFCC has also uncovered how $6.12million was invested by the Atawodis in Midland Corporate Investment Limited account with Sun Trust Savings and Loans Real Estate Limited.
From the cash, AVM Atawodi allegedly transferred $408,000 transferred to an auto firm in the United States called Hennessy Cadillac for exotic vehicles including a Rolls Royce. About $808, 851 was located in Wells Fargo Bank 2 in the name of United International Enterprises. Detectives have identified a house allegedly owned by Atawodi in Lot of the 17th District of Fulton County in Georgia at 3266 Ferncliff Lane, Atlanta Georgia 30324. Despite the seizure of the passports of the Atawodis, one of the daughters has applied to travel abroad for medical treatment in order to sell the house in Atlanta.
The EFCC has also been alerted by some foreign collaborating anti-fraud agencies of plot by the daughter to sell the house. Investigation revealed that PICOMMS was set up between 2008 and 2012. It was disbanded in 2013. The committee was expected to guarantee safety on the sea and waterways. Findings by detectives revealed that AVM Atawodi, his friends and immediate family feasted on the resources allocated to PICOMMS including donor agencies funds. Others funding PICOMMS were the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA), NIMASA, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Ministry of Defence (MOD).
A document obtained by The Nation indicated that on 12th November, 2010, AVM Atawodi made PICOMMS to issue out contracts for Maritime Domain Monitoring System for Maritime Surveillance at a cost of $32,337,163.00 to Xanatos Company Limited linked with a former Chairman of Skye Bank, Mr. Tunde Ayeni. “The fraud was detected in the course of reviewing how funds were disbursed from PICOMS to Xanatos Company Limited and other beneficiary companies. Xanatos Company Limited made a lot of questionable payments obviously from the contract sum.
“One of the companies was AUSWEE Investment Limited where Atawodi, his wife and children are directors. Checks on AUSWEE acronym revealed as follows A(Amana); U(Uneku-the daughter); S(Salihu); W(Winifred Abiodun Atawodi-wife); E(Eleojo-another daughter); E(Ebi-another daughter). But one Roland Uhuago, who is an associate of AVM Atawodi, was used as a front for AUSWEE. From the statements of accounts of PICOMS in Polaris Bank, Union Bank and ECOBANK, there were many cash withdrawals and cash movement lodged in Sun Trust Savings and Loans through a former director of the finance firm, Mr. Mohammed Jibril. About $5million was invested on behalf of the Atawodis by Jibril.
“During that period, about N4.9billion was withdrawn in cash in 2011 which they claimed they used for an unclear purpose. We have seized the passports of AVM Atawodi and some members of his family to restrict their movement to the country pending the commencement of their trial. Based on the depth of investigation, EFCC has blocked the accounts of Mrs. Winifred Atawodi’s with N141, 611, 736.8 and $228, 428.16. Another N200million has been placed on Post No Debit (PND) in First Mutual Micro-Finance Bank traced to Purple Pepper Farms Limited allegedly owned by Atawodi’s daughter (Eleojo).
About five hectares of land worth N245million have been seized from the Atawodis. The land was bought from Hilton Hotel and the relevant agency in the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) has confirmed it.” On the involvement of ex-Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State, the brief on the case indicated that his company Aeroconsult Limited was awarded a contract for the construction of a hanger in Benin Airport for the sum of N2, 780, 649, 450.00 described as an inflated rate.
“Aeroconsult also sublet their contract to Olutoyi Estate Development and Services Limited in which N700million was given to the company. From the inflated total cost of the hangar, about N550million was given to AUSWEE. And from the N500million, about N484, 000,000 was transferred to Vector Integrated Services Limited owned by Atawodi. This company has an account with Union Bank where Mrs. Winifred Atawodi was a manager before she retired. The withdrawal from AUSWEE to Vector Integrated Services was from Atawodi. And from Union Bank, some of the cash were moved into the account of Vector Integrated Services Limited in Fidelity Bank.”
A top source in EFCC said: “When we invited the former Governor of Kogi State, Capt. Idris Wada for interrogation, he insisted that the contract was well-executed. But we detected evidence of transfers to AUSWEE which suggested that the hangar contract was inflated. The ex-governor and Aeroconsult have more questions to answer, especially when fresh transfers were made in 2018 and 2019 to AVM Atawodi.”
Regarding the serving governor, the source added: “The N1, 475, 144,199.15 was converted to dollars and handed over to the governor when he was a member of the House of Representatives. The owner of the Bureau De Change used by PICOMMs, Sharif Shanono has been quizzed and he has provided evidence of transactions. We also observed that on 21/12/2011, about N250million was transferred from PICOMMS account to Saab Global Links Limited account 1012330930 belonging to Shanono.
“We were on the case before the governor’s election was validated by the Supreme Court. In fact, he was to appear before our detectives two days to the Supreme Court judgment but he stayed away to await the verdict and avoid being detained.
“While going through records, detectives were able to confirm how a paltry N1million was given to a former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Now that the governor has immunity, we have to wait till 2023 when he completes his tenure before resuming his investigation and trial. We are likely to invite some former members of the house who benefitted from the bribe-for-bill cash. The bill was titled, “Maritime Security Agency Establishment Bill (MASECA) 2010 to change PICOMMS into an agency. So far, seven out of the eight suspects implicated in this fraud may face trial.”