EFCC probes Alamieyeseigha, Tafa Balogun’s forfeited assets

Sunday, April 4, 2010

By Daniel Alabrah.
Published Sunday, April 04, 2010.

The last has not been heard on the controversy surrounding the sale of forfeited assets of a former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun, and the former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha.

Following their conviction after pleading guilty to charges bordering on corrupt enrichment, Balogun and Alamieyeseigha forfeited various assets running into billions of naira to the federal government and Bayelsa State government between 2005 and 2007.

While Balogun was convicted in November 2005 to four years imprisonment with a fine of N4 million, Alamieyeseigha pled guilty on July 26, 2007 and was sentenced to two years in prison on a six-count charge.

Authoritative sources within the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) informed Sunday Sun at the weekend that the anti-graft agency is set to open a fresh probe into the sale of the forfeited property of the two former public officials.

Sunday Sun investigation; however, revealed that this might not be unconnected with the findings of a five-man committee set up by the commission’s boss, Mrs. Farida Waziri.

The Committee on Disposal of Assets, comprising staff of the commission, recently submitted its interim report, raising fresh posers and the shady manner in which the property forfeited by Balogun and Alamieyeseigha were sold.

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In the report obtained by Sunday Sun, the committee indicted a notable Lagos-based estate and valuers firm, noting that besides “the unsavoury circumstances surrounding its appointment” by the then Mallam Nuhu Ribadu-led EFCC, it also breached due process and due diligence in the sale of Balogun’s property.

Besides being appointed as valuers, rent collectors and managers of the forfeited property at the same time, the firm also allegedly engaged in unlawful practices such as “getting buyers of forfeited properties to issue cheques in the name (of the company) (names withheld) when such cheques should have been made out to the Accountant-General of the Federation as proceeds accruing to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”

It also reportedly kept proceeds of the sale of the property in a “dedicated account” in violation of rules and laws directing that such proceeds be lodged in the nearest sub-treasury within 48 hours.

If the committee’s report is accepted, the company might be made to account for and refund interests accruing from all such “unlawful lodgments.”

Among other breaches, the committee noted that the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Minister of Works, Accountant-General of the Federation and the Auditor-General, who ought to be parties in the disposal of property forfeited to the Federal Government as stipulated in the EFCC Establishment Act and as required by Financial Regulations 2520 (Revised 2006) were not briefed by the secretary of the commission when the assets were sold.

For instance, in the sale of Balogun’s property, the estate firm was unilaterally appointed by the EFCC as sole valuer, manager, rent collector and auctioneer.

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“This negates the checks and balances necessary for the transparent disposition of the forfeited assets. This may explain why Tafa Balogun’s properties were sold below their prevailing market value.

“Glaring examples of under-valuation are the cases of Plot 2220 Suez Crescent Ibrahim Abacha Estate, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja; a property whose land alone would sell for more than the paltry N280 million for which its five-bedroom five detached duplexes was sold. This is in spite of the fact that the owner’s own evaluation of the five duplexes stood at N500 million.

“Other cases of under-evaluation are Yashua and Shakir Plazas, properties located in the heartland of Abuja commercial district for N200 million and N300 million respectively, sums the committee believes do not reflect the true market values of these properties.”

Another curious slip by the auctioneers was that among the nine companies that bought Balogun’s property, only three were legally existing at the time of the sale.

Checks at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) in Abuja revealed that only Multi Banks Savings & Loans Limited, Otunba Otukayode and Conau Limited were the “legal persons” that purchased Balogun’s property while other “buyers” such as Fadco Investment Limited, Matbeny Holdings, Capri Martins Finance Limited, Onesimus Global Investment Limited, Yasua Plaza Tenants Limited and Shakir Tenants Nigeria Limited “do not legally exist.”

Another poser is that as at March 2009, in separate letters to the EFCC, both the offices of the Accountant General of the Federation and that of the Auditor-General of the Federation said they had no records on the receipt of the proceeds from the sale of the property belonging to either Balogun or Alamieyeseigha.

The management of the proceeds of sale as well as rents from the forfeited property also left much to be desired as it was observed that the lodgment of proceeds of sales of forfeited assets and forfeited cash in a “Recovery Account” was a violation of the EFCC Establishment Act and Extant Financial Regulations.

“This situation is further compounded by the habit of failing to promptly cash and appropriately deposit forfeitures made out in cheques and drafts. As at the time of writing this Interim Report, the committee has identified N3.4 billion in stale cheques; N484, 385,904. 69 in un-cashed banks drafts; and $554, 878, 78 lying dormant in the Lagos Exhibit Room alone. The figures would be higher when the committee visits the Abuja Exhibit Room,” it noted.

Although it was handled by two other Lagos-based estate firms, a clear violation of due process was also observed in the valuation and sale of Alamieyeseigha’ s property as the AGF, the Ministry of Works and Accountant-General of Federation were all left out of the process.

As part of the underhand dealings, one buyer was said to have bought three of the former governor’s property in Abuja and Port Harcourt, using different company names that were legally not recognized.

“The buyer of 18 Mississippi Street (name withheld) does not legally exist. Further proof of lapses in due diligence is indicated by the Commission’s omission of the oligopolistic grabbing demonstrated by (the buyer), who paid for 18 Mississippi Street under the legal non-entity; also bought 20 Obagi Street, Port Harcourt, and also proceeded to buy 34 Amazon Street Ministers Hill Maitama. This sort of consummate acquisitionist should have raised an alarm for an anti-money laundering agency. In general, the omissions of the Secretary of the Commission in the asset forfeiture process must be judged within the context of an atmosphere where civility and due process were swamped by an essentially operational culture,” the committee noted.

On the sale of Chelsea Hotel, which was forfeited by Alamieyeseigha, the estate company that handled the process was said to have deliberately mismanaged and under-valued the property.

“Having read and perused the statements of accounts and returns made by (the estate firm), the committee wishes to disagree with the image of degradation hoisted on Chelsea Hotel as if it were some wasting asset. What we observed are acts of mismanagement resulting in the proceeds of the hotel being ploughed into wasteful expenditure.

“In 2006, Chelsea Hotel made N155, 359,727. 02. This rose by 35% when they made N373, 335,421. 12 in 2007. In 2008 Chelsea Hotel made N50, 570, 624.26 in the first two (2) months (January and February). At that rate, it would have repeated the feat of 2007 with a projected income of N372million.

“What we observed in the management of Chelsea Hotel was a “plundering of plunder” which made it impossible for the hotel to break even. In fact, under (the estate firm)., Chelsea Hotel has been unable to hit the N29 million net income achieved under the previous management. On hindsight, this committee is of the opinion that letting an estate agent manage a hotel of the status of Chelsea was a gross miscalculation.”

Sunday Sun was unable to get the reaction of the estate firm as several calls to the company’s telephone lines went unanswered.

Source: Nigerian Sun Newspaper

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