$3m Bribery Scandal: Otedola Makes Statement to Police
13 Jun 2012
Mr. Femi Otedola
• Lawan may be grilled today
• Allegation should not displace probe report – NLC
Ike Abonyi, Onwuka Nzeshi and Yemi Akinsuyi
The police have waded into the $3 million bribery scandal involving the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee Monitoring the Fuel Subsidy as one of the key actors, Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas, Mr. Femi Otedola, appeared at the force headquarters, Abuja, yesterday to make a statement.
It was also learnt that the ad hoc committee chairman, Hon. Farouk Lawan, whom Otedola had accused of demanding $3 million bribe from him to keep his company’s name out of the panel’s report will appear before a team of top police officers today in Abuja to give his own version of the incident.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) nonetheless, has cautioned against diversion of attention from the implementation of the report of the ad hoc committee on the oil subsidy probe, stating that since the report has been submitted to the presidency, it should be investigated and those indicted should be prosecuted.
Otedola confirmed to THISDAY that he was at the Louis Edet House headquarters of the police to put his own side of the story down in writing.
Otedola, who entered the force headquarters at about 10 am, left an hour later after answering questions from a team of Special Task Force (STF) officials, set up by the Inspector General of Police (IG), M. D Abubakar, and headed by a Commissioner of Police, Ali Ahmadu.
He said he gave the police a graphic account of how Lawan and the secretary to the ad hoc committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, collected $620,000 from him in three instalments as part payment for the $3 million demanded from him to delist Zenon’s name from the panel’s report.Fuel Subsidy Probe: Otedola Confirms Bribe to Lawmakers
He said he told the police that he agreed to play along with the lawmaker based on the advice officials of some security agencies gave him after he had reported the matter to them.
Otedola referred the police to THISDAY lead report on Monday, which he said was a true account of how the incident started and how unknown to Lawan, he passed marked bills, provided by the security agencies to the lawmaker, who collected $500,000 in two instalments and Emenalo, who collected $120,000.
On whether he gave the police a copy of the video footage of Lawan and the committee secretary who allegedly collected the bribe, Otedola said he could not because the evidence was not in his custody.
Otedola, reacting to Lawan’s narration on Monday that he (Otedola) initiated the bribe, faulted the lawmaker’s account of what transpired between them, insisting that he never initiated or offered the bribe as alleged by Lawan.
“As my father used to say, an offence committed and denied, is twice committed. As for his (Lawan’s) account on the IGP, is a cock and bull story.
“He collected the money on April 24, but waited for 40 days to write the letter only after he discovered that the security agencies had the video and audio recordings of the transaction.
“He should go and face the full force of the law. I am also ready to submit myself to the law enforcement agencies if I am found wanting in anyway,” he told THISDAY after coming out from the police headquarters.
A police source told THISDAY yesterday that Lawan had been served an invitation to appear before the STF, but was yet to honour the invitation.
Although the source declined to state when Lawan was served the invitation, he said the police were still expecting him to come and give his own account of the story.
It was learnt that the police are investigating the matter instead of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) as a deliberate tactic to avoid a clash between both agencies, since the EFCC is already handling the fuel subsidy report which credibility is being threatened by the bribery scandal.
President Goodluck Jonathan, through the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, had directed the EFCC to carry out a thorough investigation into the fuel subsidy report with a view to prosecuting those indicted, before the bribery scandal broke out.
Meanwhile, Lawan’s U-turn on Monday that he took $500,000 from Otedola elicited mixed reactions yesterday from his colleagues.
The embattled lawmaker, who initially denied collecting money from any marketer, finally admitted that he collected the money after Otedola had made him an offer to alter the probe report. Lawan: I Collected $500,000 Bribe Offer
A member of the House, who craved anonymity, described the bribery scandal as an embarrassment to the legislature and a dent on the image of the House.
Others said that the episode must be handled with caution, claiming that it might be a calculated attempt to tarnish the image of the House and its members.
Chairman, House Committee on Donor Agencies and Civil Societies, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, said it had become imperative for Nigerians to look at the matter critically and draw a line between the conduct of an individual and the position of the House as an institution.
Eyiboh said that while he would not hold brief for anyone, the bribery remained in the realm of allegations until the security agencies have concluded their investigations and urged Nigerians to be fair in their comments.
“I think it is high time we begin to distinguish between the conduct of individuals and the institution. What is happening and which is now the subject of discussion in the public domain is within the purview of criminal justice and there are processes and procedures to resolving it.
“In this matter so far, neither the accuser nor the accused has said that any money was given to the House or its leadership. Nobody has also said that the transaction has undermined the credibility of the subsidy report. We should be able to distinguish between the conduct of an individual and the institution.
“Moreover, it is still an allegation which is outside the statutory responsibilities of the House. But be rest assured that the leadership and members of the House of Representatives are alive to their constitutional responsibilities,” Eyiboh stated.
The NLC, also, has cautioned against diversion of attention from the implementation of the report of the committee due to the ongoing accusations and counter-accusations between Lawan and Otedola.
The NLC, in a statement signed by its acting president, Comrade Kiri Mohammed, said while it considers the allegations of bribery serious, it should be the burden of the EFCC and other appropriate agencies to investigate it.
The report which has since been submitted to the presidency should be investigated and those indicted should be prosecuted, the NLC added.
“Whether or not the chairman or the entire members of the ad hoc committee solicited for and received gratifications to compromise the outcome of the committee’s investigations, though quite disturbing, the final report of the committee still contains names and details sufficient for thorough and transparent investigation,” the statement read.
NLC added that the report confirms its position that subsidy does not exist in the petroleum sector, but rather has been used as a conduit by some cronies of successive governments to siphon public funds.
Fuel Subsidy Probe: Otedola Confirms Bribe to Lawmakers11 Jun 2012Mr. Femi Otedola•SSS sends videotape to EFCCBy Yemi Ajayi in Lagos, Ike Abonyi, Onwuka Nzeshi and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in AbujaThe full details of the $3 million bribery scandal involving members of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on the Fuel Subsidy probe were revealed yesterday, as one of the major actors in the scandal has opened up on what transpired.In an exclusive interview with THISDAY, chairman, Zenon Petroleum & Gas Ltd, Mr. Femi Otedola, who hitherto was suspected of being behind the $3 million bribery scandal, blew the lid on what transpired and how chairman of the ad-hoc committee, Hon. Farouk Lawan, and the secretary of the committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, had collected $620,000 from him in a sting operation masterminded by the security agencies.The amount was part payment for the $3 million, which he alleged Lawan had demanded from him to exonerate Zenon Oil from the ad-hoc committee’s report.As the scandal unfolds, it was learnt that operatives of the State Security Services have sent a video recording of the incident to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for further scrutiny and action.Otedola, who was opening up on the issue for the first time, narrated how Lawan at the outset of the probe had approached him to get some insight into the workings of the downstream oil and gas sector.Otedola said he obliged him and ensured that his managing directors of Forte Oil Plc and Zenon Oil appeared at the subsidy probe during its public hearing after both companies had been invited by the committee.During the probe, he said the committee was informed in no uncertain terms that Zenon does not and has never made claims for subsidy payments from the federal government, as the company was engaged solely in the importation of diesel, a product that is not subsidised.
Zenon’s managing director, Mr. Kanmi Kareem Otaru, during the probe had denied that the company had anything to do with the subsidy regime. He told the committee, “For the avoidance of doubt Zenon never participated or benefited from the subsidy scheme or Petroleum Support Fund (PSF).”According to him, going by the Act which established the PSF scheme, “Zenon couldn’t participate in it because we don’t have a network of PMS retail outlets which was one of the key criteria beneficiaries must meet and as such we are not qualified to participate to draw from subsidy payments on PMS. So we never collected as records will show.”Irrespective of the clarification made at the hearing, Otedola said Lawan still approached him a few days before the report was to be tabled on April 18, 2012 before the House of Representatives, demanding money so that Zenon’s name will be kept out of the report.
“When this happened, I was very angry and reminded him that Zenon has never participated in the subsidy scheme and that it would be criminal to rope in the company for something it did not do.“But Lawan responded, stating that several other marketers were playing ball and had offered the members of the committee large sums of money to ensure that their companies’ names were not published in the report,” he added.Otedola, said initially he balked at Lawan’s attempt to extort money from him and told the legislator that he would not pay up, as Zenon had not committed any crime.“Then a day before the report was to be submitted, Lawan called again, informing me that Zenon’s name had been included in the report.
“I, of course, was very angry and asked him to desist from his course of action, but Lawan insisted that I must pay up as other oil marketers had done before me.”Otedola said he could not believe his eyes the next day when the report came out and Zenon’s name had been listed under the category of companies that had bought foreign exchange from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) but had not imported petrol.The amount ascribed to Zenon in the report was $232,975,385.13. The report had recommended that Zenon and 14 other marketers that had bought the foreign exchange be referred to the anti-corruption agencies to determine what they used the monies for.
Otedola said at this point he again called Lawan demanding that Zenon’s name be removed from the list, as there was no way his company could have bought that volume of foreign exchange without importing products.“I reminded him that the amount ascribed to Zenon was wrong as what the company bought was over $400 million for importation of products through the banks – Zenith, UBA and GTB – and that under Sanusi (CBN governor) there was no way anyone could have bought that quantity of foreign exchange and not imported the products having filled the Form M.“Sanusi will simply clamp down on anyone who tries to pull that kind of stunt,” he said.
In spite of this, Otedola said Lawan still demanded that the members of the committee be given money in exchange for removing Zenon’s name from the report before it is considered in plenary by the entire House.Otedola said he then asked how much would be required to make the committee happy, to which Lawan responded $3 million.
“I screamed at him, demanding to know why he was doing this to me. All he said was other marketers were paying up to keep their names out of the report so I should do likewise,” he said.Otedola revealed that it was this point he decided to involve the security agencies to catch Lawan and his committee with their hands in the till.According to him, “As a law-abiding citizen, I decided to involve the security agencies and they advised me to play along, which prompted me to offer to pay part of the money with the promise that I would pay the balance when my company’s name had been removed from the report.”The security agencies, he disclosed, gave him serialised dollar bills for the sting job and there are call logs, video and audio recordings in the possession of the agencies to confirm all that had transpired between himself and Lawan.He said on April 21, the Saturday before the plenary, Lawan came in person to his residence and collected $250,000 in cash, as the first instalment, “then the next Monday night he came and collected another $250,000.“On Tuesday, at 9am, just before the House commenced seating, Boniface came and collected another $120,000.”
Otedola confirmed that during the sting, Lawan and Boniface collected a total of $620,000 in three instalments as part of the $3 million demanded from him.He added that with the $620,000 that had been extorted by Lawan and the committee, during the plenary, Zenon’s name was removed from the list of companies that had bought foreign exchange but did not import products.Otedola continued: “He (Lawan) now asked for the balance of $2.5 million, but when I told him that I had no money now that the money was in Lagos, he suggested that I should charter a plane to fly the money from Lagos to Abuja.”Otedola stressed that his decision to get the law enforcement and security agencies involved stemmed from the fact that he had not broken any law, maintaining that as a law-abiding citizen, he was saddened by the fact that he was being blackmailed by of all people, members of the legislature.“If you have information that an armed robber is come to raid your home, won’t you notify the police? So, that was the purpose of the sting operation.“Besides, my integrity is paramount to me. I started selling petroleum products 14 years ago in drums and somebody who has never run a petrol station is trying to blackmail and extort money from me.
“If others (marketers) have paid money, maybe they are guilty. But I did not do anything wrong, so why should they extort money from me? As a law-abiding citizen, I had to involve the security agencies. Indeed, I’m very disappointed because I have worked hard to build my business.”Insisting that he had nothing to hide or fear over what had happened, Otedola maintained if he was in the wrong he would not have involved the security agencies in the first instance.In a reference to the strong denials made by Lawan since the scandal became public, Otedola stated, “When he (Lawan) demanded the bribe, I called the agencies. That is because I had nothing to hide. When the bribe was paid, why did he not call and report it to the agencies if he had nothing to.”Meanwhile, THISDAY gathered that the videotape of the illicit transaction had been sent to the EFCC to investigate the incident.
When contacted, the EFCC, however, said it had neither received the videotape nor had it commenced investigations into the bribery scandal.EFCC Head of the Media Unit, Mr. Wilson Uwugiaren, said the allegation had not been brought to the knowledge of the commission.
According to him, the only related matter currently being handled by the EFCC was the report of the ad-hoc committee that the commission was studying to establish the facts and track down anyone found culpable for the alleged mismanagement of the PSF.