N30tn: Senate C’ttee Claims Firms Admitted Complicity in Revenue Loss

  •   Meets CEOs behind closed doors

Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

The Senate Joint Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff and Marine Transport has claimed that some companies invited in the course of its investigations into the alleged N30 trillion revenue leakages in the Nigerian Customs Services (NCS) and other agencies, have admitted to conniving with cabals in the agencies to commit fraud.

The Committee Chairman, Senator Hope Uzodimma, who made the claim at a press briefing wednesday, however did not mention the companies that have admitted complicity to defraud the federal government.

This is as the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of 11 companies met with the committee members behind closed doors yesterday, five days after the committee said it had ordered their arrests alongside 22 other CEOs, over their failure to appear at the probe despite invitations to them.

The companies whose CEOs appeared are Dana Group, China Export, Emel Group, Halliburton, Bhojson Plc, Bharat Ventures Ltd, Bua International Ltd, Friesland Campina, Boulos Group, CFAO Group and British American Tobacco Company.

Journalists were not privy to the details of the proceedings yesterday, or several proceedings that have been held by the committee.

Briefing journalists after the meeting, Uzodimma said the proceedings for the investigation have been holding behind closed doors, so as not to reveal trade secrets.

“You must have observed that we now decided to take the companies one after the other rather than the general group thing. The reason is that some of the companies approached the committee and have expressed their willingness to support our investigation because the process of the investigation may require them revealing some of their trade secrets.

“In order not to breach the secrecy that has to do with their business modules, we agreed to their terms because our interest is to achieve result. Some of the companies that appeared before us today have also committed to our success by way of making some admissions here and there. We don’t want to create unnecessary panic in the market.”
“Some of the companies are public quoted companies. So our interest is to confront them with the infractions we identified that their companies are involved in, and to resolve issues going forward to ensure government collects necessary revenues that have not been collected before this time and then block the areas of leakages in such a manner that our national interest will be protected.

“If there is anybody who is still in doubt whether there are recoverable revenues of government in the hands of these companies, by the admission of some of them, it means that the person should better wake up,” Uzodimma added.

According to him, “this investigation is a mandate from plenary and is ongoing but we will not disclose everything now because there things we will do or say that will mar the success of the investigation. We are not shrouding anything in secret.”

Uzodimma called on Nigerians to support the Senate, as it is working for the interest of Nigerians.

“This job seems to be a thankless one but for the interest of our country, it has become necessary that we make the sacrifice and that is what we are doing. What we are doing and showing by this investigation is that the country can be better and that we can move from where we are now to where we expect the country to be,” he said.

The committee chairman added that the committee would not back down on its insistence that all the invited CEOs must appear before it to explain the roles of their companies in the alleged fraud.

“Initially, some of these agencies of government and some private companies were reluctant in attending or honouring the Senate invitation. With the threat and the support of the police, they have all responded. We have seen 11 of them today and we will continue until we have exhausted all the companies.

“The public is also interested in this investigation and you know the stock exchange is an important platform for trade in Nigeria. There is a signal we will get to the market that will destroy the image and integrity of these companies.

“From what we are seeing from some of the infractions. even now that they are willing to make up their shortcomings were committed by some of the agents that were authorised to carry out some of these activities on their behalf,” he added.

Uzodimma gave the assurance that there would be a more comprehensive press conference at the end of the exercise to reveal the outcome of the probe.

The committee at its initial hearing, alleged that revenue worth over N30 billion has been lost to activities of a cabal at the ports, who connive with officials to carry out the infractions in daily transactions at the ports, commercial banks, shipping companies, terminal owners and operators.