Published On: Fri, Mar 24th, 2017

INVESTIGATION: Governors’ Forum, FG Opt For “Quiet” Settlement In Alleged Diversion Of Paris Club’s Consultancy/Legal Fees

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…We Stand By Our Story, News Investigators Replies NGF

…GTBank Says “We Owe Responsibility To Alert CBN”

By Our Correspondents – The Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) has begun negotiation with some Consultants that carried out the legal recovery efforts that led to the refund of $3.1billion from the Paris and London Club of Creditors.

Chairman, Governor’s Forum

The move followed News Investigators’ reports which revealed the shady and questionable deals in the payment of Consultancy and Legal fees into the private account of the Governors’ Forum from the federation account.

The exclusive reports titled: “Governors’ Forum of Fraud: How Abdulaziz Yari’s NGF Allegedly Diverted $86million, N19billion Of Paris Club Refund,” detailed the suspicious release of N19.4 billion and $86 million by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) into bank accounts belonging to the Nigerian Governors’ Forum as “Consultants fees” and “Legal fees” respectively.

Specifically, the report revealed how the sum of $86 million dollar was funneled via a Guarantee Trust Bank account 0023577047, sort code 058083215 in NGF account name of “Consultants fee.

The money in question was different from the actual payments due to individual states from the refund, but a separate release from the federation account as fees purportedly secured by the NGF in the pursuit of the refund.

The report which raised hard questions about the legitimacy of NGF receipt of “consultancy and legal fees” when it did not serve that purpose, drew heated reactions with follow ups from other news platforms wondering “when governors suddenly become consultants and lawyers.”

The bank accounts were later frozen, but GTB’s Head of Communications, Meskly…says “no hold exists on the account as l’m speaking (Wednesday) when he spoke with News Investigators.

He would not speak further on the matter because we have obligation to keep customers dealing secret except otherwise directed by court. He however said the bank has a responsibility to report transactions to CBN when the need arise.

Kemi Adeosun, Minister of Finance, in a Mandate to CBN’s Governor Godwin Emefiele dated 21st November 2016 had authorized in a curious circumstance the release of “US$86,546,526.65, relating to “consultants fees” to the NGF’s GTB Account no. 0023577047, with sort code 058083215.

Mr. Meskly who would not speak on the payment nor confirm whether GTBank duly notified the CBN of the receipt of the questionable deposit in accordance with the provisions of the apex bank on lodgment thresholds.

He however said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) did make enquiry, I believe they have concluded their investigations.

Following our report, real consultants that was legitimately employed by some states “to inquire, verify, reconcile and recover certain amounts of money wrongly or illegally deducted from their statutory allocations as first line charge for payment of external debts between 1995 and 2006 by the federal government,” protested leading to a move for an amicable settlement brokered by the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.

Mr. Ned Munir Nwoko, the Consultant who secured the debt refund from the Creditors following his engagement by some states since 2005, had on March 5, 2017 dragged the Incorporated Trustees of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, the Attorney General of the Federation, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and GTBank Plc to court.

In a Writ of Summons in suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/148/2017 before Justice Gabriel Kolawole demanded payment of $175.98 million (at the forex rate of N305 to $1, which amounts to N53.68 billion as his consultancy/legal fees from the said N522.74 billion refund in the first tranche.

According to the plaintiff, the $175.98 million represents his consultancy/legal fees from the refund to 15 states -Abia, Anambra, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Kogi, Adamawa, Taraba, Niger, Ondo, Oyo, Edo, Delta and Zamfara.

Nwoko who exhibited letters of authority from the different states to back his claims, averred that the defendants instead of paying him his legitimate legal and consultancy services, which led to the realization of the said releases and payments, allegedly paid consultancy/legal fees to phony and sham consultants, who did not render any consultant/legal services to the state governments.

He also sought an ex-parte order stopping the defendants from further payments into the accounts.

Justice Kolawole in his ruling on the ex-parte application directed that while the plaintiff should put the defendants on notice, the defendants must come to court to show cause why the prayers of the plaintiff should not be granted.

However, the latest intervention by Mr. Malami for out of court settlement is believed to be the result of pressure from the presidency to douse tension from the controversial payment.

As earlier reported, the EFCC it was learnt, is also been pressured to stay action on its probe of the matter.

EFCC Spokesman Wilson Uwajuren told News Investigators on Friday he was not aware of any pressure.

“I know investigation is still on, that is the much l know,” Mr. Uwajuren said in a telephone interview.

However, in its feeble attempt to refute the report on Monday, NGF issued a paid advertorial explaining its role in the questionable deal.

In its advertorial dated 15th of March, 2017 titled: The NGF and Paris-London Clubs Loan Refund: Putting the records straight, NGF

The advertorial signed by its Head of Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, said “consultants were recruited by the respective states but were eventually collapsed into a consortium of only a few, even though the others who did not make it to the final group were reimbursed according to their input.

Mr. Bello-Barkindo did not pick his calls and failed to respond to interview request by News Investigators.

“It may interest the readers that many more consultants throughout the country are still insisting that they did work on this same Paris-London Clubs repayments since a decade ago and that they are entitled to some compensation as well,” he rather stated in the paid advertorial.

“Many of them had actually and verifiably done some work in the past and negotiated a fee of between 10 per cent and 30 per cent, with the different states that engaged them. It was therefore immoral and impossible to deny each their due, provided their input is verified and justified

However, a statement by News Investigators Friday, said it stands by its report on the matter.

News Investigators, in statement signed by its Publisher/Editor-In-Chief, Idowu John Bakare, challenged the NGF to produce the consortiums of lawyers and consultants it employed, assuring that the news platform is ready to publish such clarifications.

“Our attention has been drawn to a rejoinder/advertorial published on Premium Times by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, dismissing the reports published in respect of the payments of consultants and legal fees into the Forum’s account.”

“We state unequivocally that we stand by our report on the matter insist based on our investigations that we found nothing that suggest that the Governors’ Forum as a body was entitled to receive payments for consultancy and legal fees.

“Let the NGF furnish us with details of who the consultants and lawyers it hired are and how the N19.4billion and $86 million were disbursed so that the Nigerian public could be better informed,” Bakare stated.

“We have made efforts to speak to the Forum on the matter to no avail.

“It would interest the public to know how many consultants and lawyers that have been paid from the amount since it was paid to them last year.

“And if consultants were recruited by respective states as acknowledged in the advertorial, why not allow each state to settle consultants and lawyers on their own terms from their own individual allocation instead of a separate omnibus sum from the federation account that is believed to be slush money.

The statement reminded NGF that there was a garnished judgement obtained by a party in the case from a Federal High Court in Abuja spelling out the payment to the legal team.

The advertorial attempted to obscure the issues by stating that “if the Federal Government under the watch of President Buhari had found anything corrupt, illegal and unpatriotic about the payment or the utilization of the first tranche of the Paris-London Clubs Fund repayment to states, it would not have approved the payment of the second tranche to the states.

“After all, we all know the unimpeachable level of commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari on the issues of transparency and accountability. In any case, those writing those fictitious reports on the payment have also acknowledged that the president had insisted on the verification of the process of utilization of the first tranche before the second is approved for release. Note also most importantly at this juncture, that every decision that was taken in respect of all the transactions was with the full consent and blessing of the 36 governors.

“The immediate question then is why is EFCC investigating the payments if all is well as we are being made to believe and why were its accounts frozen? The statement further queried.

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