By OHIA ISRAEL
Heads are now rolling in the Nigerian Apex Bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria; as those that are supposed to keep the money for safe have become those that now take it instead of safe keeping. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has arraigned 22 bankers implicated in the 8 billion Naira mega fraud that rocked the Apex bank before the Federal High Court, Ibadan, Oyo State.
As gathered by this medium, that cut across various banks including the Central Bank of Nigeria which led to the dismissal of six officials. The affected banks are Zenith Bank, First City Monument Bank (FCMB), Wema Bank, Access Bank, First Bank, Skye Bank, Ecobank and Sterling Bank. The arraigned six ex-CBN staff are Patience Okoro Eye (Abuja), Afolabi Olufemi (Lagos), Kolawole Babalola (Ibadan), Olaniran Muniru Adeola (Ibadan), Fatai Yusuf, Adekunle (Head, Security, CBN, (Ibadan) and Ilori Adekunle Sunday (Akure).
The suspects were slammed with a five-count charge of fraud and related offenses, charges to which they all pleaded not guilty. Justice Nathaniel Ayo-Emmanuel of Federal High Court, Ibadan, ordered that all the defendants be remanded in Agodi Prison custody, located in Ibadan.
The Judge adjourned the matter to June 9, for hearing of the bail applications and July 6 and 7, for commencement of the trial proper. In a statement issued earlier by the CBN Director, Corporate Communications Department, Ibrahim Mu’azu, he said that some of the middle-level officers among the accused had been summarily dismissed or placed on indefinite suspension, depending on gravity of their offences.
“The Central Bank of Nigeria will like to inform the general public of the chronology of events that led the Management of the CBN to hand over some unscrupulous staff to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for prosecution,” it stated.
The CBN also explained that it was its management that uncovered the fraud and that it had concluded arrangements with the EFCC for their arrests and subsequent prosecution.
According to the apex bank, the scam involved the swapping of currency boxes containing mutilated naira notes meant for routine destruction at its Ibadan branch and that the total amount involved is N6,575,549,370.00.
Barely two months upon resumption of office, had the CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, ordered full investigation which eventually yielded numerous evidences of fraud. As learnt the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), had, dismissed six officials that were involved in the N8bn currency fraud in some of its branches with ignominy.
As gathered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC has concluded arrangement to arraign in court, five top executives of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, implicated in a mega scam involving the theft and recirculation of defaced and mutilated currencies. The suspects drawn from various business units of the apex bank are to be docked by the anti-graft agency before a Federal High Court sitting in Ibadan, Oyo State, from Tuesday June 2, 2015 to Thursday June 4, 2015.
The remaining sixteen suspects are drawn from various commercial banks who were found to have conspired with the CBN executives to swing the heist. All the suspects who are currently in the custody of the EFCC are now ruing the day they literally allowed greed and craze for materialism to becloud their sense of judgment and responsibility, when they elected to help themselves to tones of defaced Naira notes. Instead of carrying out the statutory instruction to destroy the currency, they substituted it with newspapers neatly cut to Naira sizes and proceeded to recycle the defaced and mutilated currency.
The fraud is partly blamed for the failure of government monetary policy over the years as currency mop up exercises by the apex bank failed to check the inflationary pressure on the economy. The lid on the scam which is widely suspected to have gone on unchecked for years, was blown on November 3, 2014 via a petition to the EFCC alleging that over N6, 575, 549, 370.00 (Six Billion, Five Hundred and Seventy-Five Million, Five-Hundred and Forty-Nine Thousand, Three Hundred and Seventy Naira) was cornered and discreetly recycled by light fingered top executives of the CBN at the Ibadan branch.
The suspects, who were members of the Briquetting Panel, plotted their way to infamy on September 8, 2014, while carrying out a Briquetting exercise at the CBN Branch, Ibadan. In banking parlance, Briquetting is disintegration and destruction of counted and audited dirty notes. By this practice, depositor banks usually take mutilated notes to the CBN in exchange for fresh notes equivalent of the amount deposited.
The depositor banks in this instance are Zenith Bank, FCMB, Wema Bank, Access Bank, First Bank, Skye Bank, Ecobank and Sterling Bank But while carrying out the assignment, the team was alleged to have found one of the currency boxes filled only with old newspapers rather than 20 bundles of N1000 notes.
A similar case, according to investigation, had been discovered on September 22, 2014 when a box that was supposed to contain N500 notes to the tune of N5billion was filled with old newspapers.
Unlike in the past, this fraud could not be swept under the carpet, as a member of the Briquetting Panel from the Osogbo branch blew the lid on the illicit deal. In a statement, the informant stated that the exercise was designed to last between August 4 and 8, 2014. The 35-year-old, however, stated that she discovered a strange ‘sight’ while opening the third box on the second day of the exercise. It was a discovery that beat her ken.
She added that she confronted the other members of the panel, including Eye, Head, Briquetting Panel; Treasury Assistant; Coordinator and Head, Security, CBN, Ibadan, who all assured her that they would look into it. But she later found out that it was all a ruse. She said she later found out that Eye not only maintained sealed lips over the matter but omitted it from her report.
A five count charge awaits the suspects as they prepare to face the wrath of the law. Count One of the charge reads: “That you Patience Okoro Eye; Afolabi Olufemi Johnson; Ilori Adekunle Sunday; Kolawole Babalola, Olaniran Muniru Adeola and Fatai Adedokun Yusuf on or about 5th August, 2014 in Ibadan within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, have by virtue of abuse of your office, being employees of Central Bank of Nigeria, contributed to the economic adversity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when you destroyed a box marked ” Counted Audited Dirty” filled with Newspapers in place of a box containing N10,000,000 (Ten Million Naira) of N1,000 denomination and which activity led to the increase of money in circulation which the briquetting exercise of Central Bank of Nigeria was intended to control and you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 1(2) (b) and Section 10 (1) of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act, Cap. R4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2014″.
Count Two reads: “That you Patience Okoro Eye; Afolabi Olufemi Johnson; Ilori Adekunle Sunday; Kolawole Babalola, Olaniran Muniru Adeola and Fatai Adedokun Yusuf on or about 5th August, 2014 in Ibadan within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, engaged in corrupt practices when you replaced the content of a box of N1,000 denomination in a total sum of N10, 000,000 (Ten Million Naira) marked as ” Counted Audited Dirty” meant for briquetting, with Newspapers and which sum you converted to your own use and you thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 1(2) (a) and Section 10 (1) of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act, Cap. R4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2014″.
In view of their plea, prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, prayed the court for a trial date and for the defendants to be remanded in prison custody. He opposed their bail applications and urged counsel to the defendants to present their bail applications formally to court.
However, counsel to the 1st accused person, K. A. Lawal made an oral application for bail. All other counsel followed suit. Justice Emmanuel however adjourned the matter to June 9, 2015 for hearing of the bail applications and July 6 and 7, 2015 for commencement of trial. He ordered that all the defendants be remanded in Agodi prison custody, Ibadan.
Meanwhile Nine officials of the Central Bank of Nigeria were last week remanded in Agodi Prison custody by a Federal High Court sitting in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, over conspiracy, diversion and stealing of N10million mutilated currency meant to be destroyed.
They were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged N86 million fraud. Contrary to the reported N86billion involved in the fraud, the accused persons with two others at large, were however charged with conversion of N10milion mutilated currency of N1, 000 denomination meant to be destroyed by the directive of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and substituting it with newspapers cut to its size, thereby subverting the apex bank’s effort at reducing dirty money in circulation.
The accused who were arraigned before Justice Ayo Emmanuel were Patience Okoro Eye, Afolabi Olufemi Johnson, Ilori Adekunke Sunday, KolawoleBabalola, Olaniran Muniru Adeola and Fatai Adedokun Yusuff. Others are Salami Ibrahim, Odiah Emmanuel, Toogun Kayode Phillips, Roy Akinsiku and Sobowale O. (who were both at large).
They were staff of Zenith Bank, First City Momument Bank (FCMB), Wema Bank, Access Bank, First Bank, Skye Bank, Ecobank and Sterling Bank. They were arraigned on a five-count charge, which they all pleaded not guilty to.
Despite spirited oral bail applications, lawyer made by counsel to the accused persons which the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) opposed, the judge ordered them to be remanded in prison custody till June 9 when proper and formal bail applications will be argued.
The five-count charge read that the accused persons “on or about 5th August, 2014, in Ibadan, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, have by virtue of abuse of your office being employees of Central Bank of Nigeria, contributed to the economic adversity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria when you destroyed a box marked “Counted Audited Dirty” filled with newspapers in place of a box containing N10million of N1,000 denomination, and which activity led to the increase of money in circulation which the briquetting exercise of CBN was intended to control.
“You thereby committed an offence punishable under section 1 (2) and section 10 (1) of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act, Cap R4, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004,” the charge read inter alia. The four other counts alleged that the accused persons owned the N10million taken from the box, made false entry in a document as a report of the briquetting exercise “which took place at the CBN, Ibadan branch, which you submitted to the CBN headquarters, Abuja, to the effect that the briquetting exercise was successful without any abnormality when, indeed, a box stuffed with newspapers as against N10m notes was discovered during the briquetting.”
The offences, according to the anti- graft agency, are punishable under “sections 7 (2) of the Bank Employees (Declaration of Assets) Act, Cap B1, Laws of the Federation, 2004, and section 438 (c) of the Criminal Code, Cap C38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”
Justice Emmanuel, having rejected the counsel’s application for bail and the request that the accused persons be remanded at the EFCC’s office or the Criminal Investigation Department, Iyaganku Police Division, Ibadan, ordered that they be remanded in the prison.
“Having considered the various applications by the counsel in this case, and having considered the proof and charges, I see that they are weighty and I will not allow such applications to be made orally. All counsels should properly file the applications for all the issues therein to be addressed. “The matter is hereby adjourned till June 9 for the bail application and July 6 and 7 for trial. The accused persons are hereby remanded in the prison,” he ordered.
In a statement issued by the Director, Corporate Communications, CBN, Alhaji Ibrahim Muazu said; “The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) would like to inform the general public of the chronology of events that led the Management of the CBN to handover some unscrupulous staff to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for prosecution.
“During a routine internal audit of the Bank’s Cash Destruction activities in September 2014, the CBN Briquetting Panel comprising Senior Bank Staff from different branches noticed some anomalies at the Ibadan Branch, and immediately reported this to the Bank’s Management.
On further investigation ordered by the Governor, it was discovered that a systematic scheme, which has been on for several years, was being run in which mutilated higher denomination notes originally meant for destruction were swapped with lower denomination currencies.
This practice known as interleafing, basically labels a box with a higher value than its true content. “As soon as the Bank’s internal investigations concluded beyond reasonable doubt that some wrongdoings had occurred, the affected members of staff who are middle-level officers were, depending on gravity of offence, either summarily dismissed or immediately placed on indefinite suspension on 21 October 2014, and all handed over to the EFCC for further investigation and prosecution.
The CBN has also conducted a nationwide audit of all 37 branches of the Bank and found that this was an isolated scheme at Ibadan Branch. The Bank will continue to collaborate with the EFCC to ensure that affected CBN staff, as well as their accomplices in some commercial banks, are brought to justice.”
Recall that the EFCC had said that it has arrested six top officials of Nigeria’s Central Bank and 16 other workers of commercial banks for stealing and putting into circulation defaced and mutilated Nigerian currency notes to the tune of N8 billion meant for destruction.
The Commission said that the suspects have already been taken into EFCC custody preparatory to their arraignment at the Federal High Court, Ibadan The trial will run in a bid to speed up the prosecution of the suspects by the court. The 16 suspects who colluded with the CBN officials to commit the fraud are officials drawn from Zenith Bank, FCMB, Wema Bank, Access Bank, First Bank, Skye Bank, Ecobank and Sterling Bank.
Meanwhile, hearing in the Central Bank of Nigeria N8bn mutilated currency fraud suit continued at the Federal High Court, Ibadan last Wednesday as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission told the court that one of the accused persons, Mr. Ayodeji Alase, had N134m in one of his bank accounts.
The EFCC told the trial judge, Justice A.O. Faaji, that Alase, a primary six certificate holder, started work at First Bank as a guard before he was promoted to the position of a cash assistant. The lead prosecution counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Jacob (SAN), also told the court that the accused had property worth hundreds of millions of naira.