EFCC Probes Zamfara Governor, Matawalle over Alleged N70bn Fraud

EFCC Probes Zamfara Governor, Matawalle over Alleged N70bn Fraud

*Says one contractor collected N6bn on N10bn contract without rendering any service 

*Another collected over N3bn for medical equipment supply contract

*Commission traced payment of N400m from governor’s account to BDC operator· 100 companies received payments without any service rendered, N300m recovered from one company

·  Says former minister of power, Mamman, still in anti-graft custody over N22bn fraud

Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), yesterday, disclosed that it had commenced investigation into alleged diversion of N70 billion by Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle.
Speaking at a media briefing in Abuja, Director of Public Affairs, EFCC, Osita Nwajah, said Matawalle was under investigation by the anti-graft agency over “allegation of monumental corruption, award of phantom contracts and diversion of over N70 billion” from the coffers of the state.

Nwajah said the money, which was sourced as loan from an old generation bank, purportedly, for the execution of projects across the local government areas of the state, was, allegedly, diverted by the governor through proxies and contractors, who received payment for contracts that were never executed.
He said the commission’s investigations so far revealed that more than 100 companies received payments from the funds, with no evidence of service rendered to the state.

Nwajah said, “Some of the contractors, who had been invited and quizzed by the commission, made startling revelations on how they were, allegedly, compelled by the governor to return the funds received from the state coffers back to him through his aides after converting the same to United States dollars.
“They confirmed that they did not render any service to Zamfara State but were, allegedly, directed to convert the monies paid to them into United States Dollars and return to the state governor through some of his commissioners, notably the commissioners in charge of finance and local government affairs.
“One of the contractors, a popular Abuja property developer, collected N6 billion on a N10 billion contract without rendering any service to Zamfara State.
“Another contractor collected over N3 billion for a contract for the supply of medical equipment but the commission traced a payment of N400 million from his account to a Bureau De Change (BDC) operator. The contractor confessed the payment was to procure the dollar equivalent, allegedly, for the state governor.”
Nwajah disclosed that as part of the extensive investigation of contracts awarded by the Matawalle administration, especially for phantom projects in the local government areas, the commission recovered N300 million from a company, Fezel Nigeria Limited.

The funds, he said, were traced to the Zamafara Investment Company.
On the recent allegation by the Zamfara State chief executive that the chairman of EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, and the commission were engaged in corrupt practices with regard to the recent asset disposal exercise conducted nationwide by EFCC, Nwajah described the governor’s allegation as a case of “corruption fighting back”.
The EFCC spokesman stated, “The attention of the EFCC has been drawn to a statement credited to the governor of Zamfara State, Bello Muhammed Matawalle, in which he attempted to cast aspersion on the integrity of the EFCC’s fight against corruption by making farcical allegations of corruption in assets disposal and plea bargain procedure, among others.

“These claims ought not to be dignified with a response. What is at play here is a pure case of corruption fighting back. Matawalle’s outburst is product of paranoia – an uncomfortable exertion arising from the heat of EFCC’s lawful activities.
“However, for the sake of some gullible citizens who might be swayed by the governor’s sudden burst of crusading zest, a measured response has become imperative to expose Matawalle’ outburst for what it is, a hollow gambit to deflect attention from the real issue.”

The EFCC Director of Public Affairs maintained, “The issue has nothing to do with the transparency of EFCC’s asset recovery and disposal process. Contrary to the claims by Matawalle, the commission supervised an asset disposal exercise that was widely acclaimed as the most transparent in the country’s history. Proceeds of the open and transparent exercise have since been remitted into the coffers of the federal government, and are being deployed in the provision of infrastructure for Nigerians.

“The issue is also not about plea bargain. Indeed, it is hypocritical for Matawalle to rile a process for which he has been a beneficiary. Plea bargain is a practice established by law, and the commission has never gone outside of the law in the application of this principle. If Matawalle has any evidence of abuse of plea bargain process, he is at liberty to make the disclosure.”

The anti-graft agency wondered why the governor would suddenly be playing the role of a supervisor guiding the agency on its investigation.
Nwajah stated further, “It is intriguing that Matawalle would want to take on the role of a supervisor, who tells the EFCC whom to investigate. Is this a case of a ‘thief’ saying he must not be touched until other ‘thieves’ are caught?

“Unfortunately, it is not within Matawalle’s remit to dictate to the EFCC whom to arrest, when and where. Suspects in the custody of the commission cut across all sectors and social class. The qualification to get a space in the commission’s detention facility is to commit a crime. It does not matter whether you are a priest, Imam, governor or minister.
“Currently, a former minister of power is in the custody of the EFCC over a N22 billion corruption allegation. That conveniently did not attract Matawalle’s attention.”

The agency recalled that former heads of the agency were similarly attacked over their determination to fight corruption.
Nwajah said, “Of course, these shenanigans are not strange. They appear to play out in cycles, particularly when the nation is in political transition.
“Virtually all the predecessors of the incumbent EFCC chairman suffered similar indignity at the hands of politically exposed persons under investigation for corruption. Who among the former chairmen of the commission was not accused of pilfering recovered assets?
“The commission would like to put the nation on notice to expect more of the kind of wild allegations made by Matawalle as those at the receiving end of EFCC’s investigations, fight viciously back.”
Responding to queries on why the agency did not speak until Matawalle’s allegation, Nwajah said the agency preferred to do its work quietly rather than being accused of media trial.

“We prefer to do our investigation very, very quietly,” he said.
Nwajah added, “He (Matawalle) wanted to shock us and blackmail us. We didn’t want to engage in media trial, which the media gives some people the platform to accuse us of. We are trying to do that, to do our work quietly.”

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