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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday said over N20bn Benue State funds have been laundered under the watch of Governor Samuel Ortom.
Top EFCC investigators who spoke to Daily Trust said the discoveries were made following intelligence reports about the suspicious transactions.
Investigators said they discovered about N20bn were withdrawn from four bank accounts operated by the Benue State government from June 2015 to March 2018.
The EFCC said the funds were laundered through several N10m withdrawals within two days after the accounts received money from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC).
Investigators said two of the bank accounts being investigated were opened as ‘Benue State Government House Account’ respectively.
The accounts were said to have received over N1.9bn between June 2015 and March 2018. The EFCC said records show that three Benue State government officials – Emmanuel Aorga, Patrick Abah and Ochaja Peter – made several withdrawals depleting the bank accounts.
It was said Aorga made a total withdrawal of N369, 728,950; Abah N130, 199,386 and Peter, N704, 041,000.
Two accounts opened as ‘Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Services Accounts’ between 2015 and 2018 received N19, 468,951,590.00 from FAAC.
The EFCC said all the money was withdrawn in cash of N10m cheques by one Oliver Mtom, a Benue State government official.
They said sometimes several withdrawals were made in one day to the tune of N500m, N300m and N200m.
It noted that the withdrawals were done monthly immediately after the accounts were credited by the FAAC.
EFCC said cashiers and accountants invited and interrogated disclosed that the monies were taken to their respective permanent secretaries. It noted that two permanent secretaries were questioned over the funds.
Permanent Secretary Gabriel Iangba was questioned over the two bank accounts under the name ‘Benue State Government House Account.’ Iangba was said to have told EFCC operatives that the funds were spent on the governor’s security, government house expenses, governors travels, landscaping and kitchen.
It added that Permanent Secretary Boniface Nyaakor was interrogated over the operation of the two accounts opened as ‘Bureau for Internal Affairs and Special Services Accounts.’
The EFCC said Nyaakor stated that the funds were disbursed to six Federal Government security agencies in Benue State.
He said the monies were randomly distributed to the security agencies with the largest amount disbursed at any given time not exceeding N10m.
The EFCC said Nyaakor would raise a blank memo on the distribution of the funds to the security agencies.
The EFCC noted that after the distribution, the governor would then destroy the memo, leaving no records of how the monies have been disbursed, which is against transparency.
The EFCC said it is also investigating the diversion of about N275m meant for purchase of 30 Prado Jeeps as official vehicles for members of the Benue State House of Assembly. It said the cars were supposed to have been purchased and distributed to the members at N12.9m each.
The EFCC said it was discovered that only eight vehicles were supplied by the contractor while N275m was diverted and laundered through the House of Assembly.
The EFCC said N244m was recovered from several members of the House of Assembly in a case that is still being investigated by the Commission.
It said four members have refused to pay back the money in an investigation that has spanned over two years.
Investigators said the members have been reporting at the EFCC head office since 2006.
The EFCC said the lawmakers and the contractor have a case to answer.
Ortom attacked for quitting APC – Aide
When contacted, Ortom’s media aide Terver Akase dismissed as false the allegations that monies have been diverted in the state.
He said the Benue State government does not have such funds to divert while struggling to pay salaries and contractors.
He said the books are open at any time, noting that anti-graft agencies should be fair and treat everybody with equity.
He said Governor Ortom’s hands are clean, and the EFCC is free to investigate all allegations.
Akase added that the governor is being attacked just because he defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC), adding that a lot of allegations are cropping up to make him look bad before the world.
He said the fact that someone is accused, or being investigated, does not mean the person is guilty. Daily Trust reports that the EFCC had in the past probed sitting governors which culminated in their controversial impeachments.
Based on investigations by the EFCC, Joshua Dariye was removed as governor of Plateau State in November 2006.
His impeachment was later nullified by the Appeal Court in March 2007.
Also, a former Governor of Bayelsa State Diepreye Alamieyeseigha was impeached in December 2005 after allegations of corruption and an investigation by the EFCC. Alamieyeseigha, like Dariye, was also then at loggerheads with the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Ekiti State Governor Ayo Fayose was also probed by the EFCC and impeached in October 2006.