Officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have formally named Senate President Bukola Saraki, a former Managing Director of Heritage Bank, Robert Mbonu, a firm, Melrose General Services Limited, the relationship manager to Mr. Saraki, Kathleen Erhimu, the deputy Chief of Staff to Senator Saraki, Gbenga Peter Makanjuola, as targets of an investigation into the embezzlement of as much as N19 billion that accrued as refunds to state governments that had made excess payments on loans obtained from international lenders, the London and Paris Clubs. Also named by the EFCC as players in the huge scandal are Kolawole Shittu, the supplier of a controversial Range Rover vehicle to Senator Saraki, as well as one Obiora Amobi and one Oladapo Joseph Idowu.
In a report forwarded to the Presidency and obtained by SaharaReporters, the EFCC wrote, “Mr. Robert Mbonu is alleged to have received the sum of N3.5 billion into his company's account (Melrose General Services Limited) from the [Nigerian Governors’ Forum] through Account 0005892453 domiciled in Access Bank.” The report identified “one Kathleen Erhimu [as] the Relationship Manager to Dr. Bukola Saraki's account with Access Bank.”
The elaborate EFCC report authenticates a series of reports in which SaharaReporters disclosed that Mr. Saraki as well as numerous governors colluded to pocket most of the billions of naira in refunds. Mr. Saraki had accused our website of fabricating the report, claiming that the EFCC was not investigating him in relation to the loan refund fraud. However, the document forwarded to the Presidency by the EFCC outlined Mr. Saraki’s deep involvement in the still unfolding embezzlement saga.
A part of the EFCC document reported that, at a meeting, Senator Saraki had “introduced one Joseph Oladapo Idowu and Gbenga Peter Makanjuola his deputy chief of staff to [Ms. Erhimu] and Makanjuola thereafter introduced Mr. Robert Mbonu to Ms. Kathleen Erhimu.” The EFCC told the Presidency that Mr. Mbonu operated corporate accounts for Melrose General Services at Access Bank. The accounts, listed as 0005892453 and 0005653500, were until December 13, 2016 operated as business accounts, according to the EFCC report.
The report further disclosed that Halima Kyari, the head of “Private Banking Group” at Access Bank, “stated in a letter dated December 13, 2016, [that] Mr. Robert Mbonu requested a transfer of Melrose General Services Company account from Business Account to a Private Banking Group Platform as he was expecting huge funds into the account. SaharaReporters learned that Mr. Mbonu’s move was at the instance of Senator Saraki who desired the use of the Melrose General Services Company account to warehouse his cut of the funds that came from the London-Paris Club refunds.
The EFCC report stated, “Subsequently, on December 14, 2016, the sum of N3.5 billion was lodged into Melrose General Services Company account number 0005892453 domiciled with Access Bank from the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF).”
According to the anti-corruption agency, Mr. Mbonu subsequently introduced Mr. Amobi and Mr. Makanjuola to Access Bank as representatives of Melrose General Services Limited. The purpose of the introduction, the EFCC found, was to enable the two men to do cash withdrawals from the account. The report stated that Mr. Amobi and Mr. Makanjuola soon made several cash withdrawals in tranches of N5 million and N10 million.
The EFCC report stated that Mr. Mbonu also requested that one Oluyemi Braithwaite, the owner of Reinex Bureau de Change, Caddington Capital Limited and Westgate Limited, provide dollars in exchange for the naira-denominated withdrawals from the erstwhile Melrose account. Mr. Mbonu, a front for Senator Saraki, asked Ms. Braithwaite to hand over the dollars to one Mr. Gbenga in Abuja.
According to the EFCC, Ms. Oluyemi Braithwaite sought out one Hassan Dantani Abubakar, a cousin of former military head of state, Abdulsalam Abubakar, to produce the dollars in exchange for the naira provided by Mr. Mbonu. Dantani Abubakar’s role in the saga is significant in establishing another tie to Senator Saraki. Mr. Abubakar, who operates a bureau de change, has had a longstanding relationship with Mr. Saraki. In 2015, several members of the senator’s security detail conspired to steal N300m that Dantani Abubakar was moving for Mr. Saraki. Most of the security operatives, officers of the Department of State Security (DSS), were subsequently arrested when it was established that they ambushed the illicit funds being transported to the senator. The EFCC report stated that Ms. Braithwaite had, over the phone, introduced Mr. Mbonu to Mr. Abubakar. In addition to operating a bureau de change (BDC), Mr. Abubakar also owns several companies, including Hamma Procurement Limited, Ashrab Nigeria Limited and Inspire Solar Application.
The EFCC report added that, on December 16, 2016, Melrose paid the sum of N246 million into an account, No. 2030756168, held by Mr. Abubakar’s company, Hamma Procurement Limited, at First Bank. In return, Hamma Procurement released the sum of $500,000 to one Mr. Gbenga in Abuja. Mr. Gbenga, an aide to Mr. Saraki, acknowledged receipt of the same amount, said the EFCC.
According to the anti-corruption agency, “on the December 21st, 2016, Ms. Oluyemi Braithwaite contacted Hassan Dantani Abubakar requesting for another transaction of $370,000. Melrose General Services Company transferred the sum of N181m to Inspire Solar Application. The $370,000 was handed over to one Mr. Dapo in Abuja.”
Providing more details of the intricate maneuvers used by Senator Saraki to move funds, the EFCC report noted: “That on the January 4th, 2017, Mbonu through Melrose General Services Company transferred the sum of N248, 500,000 to Caddington Capital Limited belonging to Ms. Oluyemi Braithwaite who transferred same to Hassan Dantani Abubakar's FCMB account, Ashrab Nigeria Limited for the sum of $500,000. The dollar equivalent was handed over to Mr. Kolawole Shittu in Abuja an amount reportedly used to purchase a bulletproof Range Rover luxury car recently seized by the Nigerian Customs.
“That on January 10, 2017, Mr. Robert Mbonu through Melrose General Services Company transferred the sum of N99, 820,000 to Caddington Capital Limited belonging to Ms. Oluyemi Braithwaite who transferred same to Hassan Dantani Abubakar's FCMB Ashrab Nigeria Limited for the sum of $200,000. The dollar equivalent was handed over to Peter Makanjuola in Abuja.
“That on December 19, 2016 there was a cash withdrawal of the sum of N50 million from Melrose General Services account via [a] cheque by Gbenga Peter Makanjuola.
“Also, the sum of $1,570,000 was received by the trio of Mr. Gbenga Peter Makanjuola, Mr. Kolawole Shittu and Mr. Oladapo Joseph Idowu at various times and locations at Abuja FCT.
“That on the December 26, 2016, Mr. Robert Mbonu called Mrs. Kathleen Erhimu of Access Bank requesting her to source for a customer that would have the sum of $500,000 in exchange for the Naira equivalent. She introduced Mr. Robert Mbonu to Acarast Commercial Limited and Capital Field Investment to help him source for dollars.
“That on the 21st December, 2016, GCA Energy Limited paid the sum of $25,000 to Asterio Energy Services Limited which subsequently transferred the sum of $23,200 to Cactus Communication Limited account with Access Bank.
“The MD of Sought-After International Synergy Limited, Julius Okedele, stated that Mr. Kelechi Edomobi of Acarast Commercial Enterprises, contacted him and requested to purchase dollars after the transfer of N73,950,000 to Sought-After International Synergy Limited. Mr. Edomobi gave him the account number of Cactus Communication Limited [at] Access Bank as the nominated account to receive the dollar equivalent of the sum of $149,000.
The EFCC remarked that their investigation revealed that Cactus Communication Limited “is owned and operated by Joseph Oladapo Idowu, an aide to Bukola Saraki.” The agency further reported “Mr. Kelechi Edomobi also transferred the sum of N1m on January 15, 2017 to Joseph Oladapo Idowu's personal account number 0001679877 with Access Bank Plc.
“That Asterio Energy Services Limited on 21st and 22nd December, 2016 transferred $100,000 and $85,000 to Bhaskar Devji Jewelers LLC in Dubai respectively,” noting that this was “the same company that Dr. Bukola Saraki repeatedly made transfers to from his Black Card Account.”
According to the EFCC, “Cactus Communication Limited on December 30, 2016 paid the sum of $59,660.67 to Bhaskar Devji Jewelers LLC in Dubai.” In addition, the agency’s report disclosed that Asterio Energy Services Limited had transferred $46,000, $39,000 and $37,620 respectively to Cactus Communication Limited on January 20, 30 and 31, 2017.
“Based on the foregoing findings, it is clear that Robert Mbonu, the Managing Director of Melrose General Services Company, and his company were used to help divert proceeds of unlawful activities under the guise of payment for contractual obligations with the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF),” the EFCC wrote in the report to the Presidency. The agency’s report added “all payments received by Melrose General Services Company from the NGF have hitherto been diverted directly via cash withdrawals and indirectly through transfers by Gbenga Peter Makanjuola, Kolawole Shittu and Oladapo Joseph Idowu who are principal aides of the Senate President.
“Furthermore, other payments from Melrose General Services Company [have] also been linked to companies that Dr. Bukola Saraki has interest in and [carries] out transactions with. This includes the sum of $183,000 which was transferred to Bhaskar Devji Jewelers, Dubai, a company Dr. Bukola Saraki had repeatedly made payments to.”
Added the EFCC: “Also, the sum of N200 million was transferred to Wasp Networks Limited that subsequently transferred the sum of N170 million to Xtract Energy Services Limited, a company that routinely made deposits into Dr. Bukola 's Access Bank United States Domiciliary Account.”
In its conclusion, the EFCC stated that a “prima facie case of conspiracy to retain the proceeds of unlawful activities and money laundering contrary to Sections 15(3) and 18(9) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2004 can be established against the aforementioned suspects.” It added that its operatives were investigating the personal accounts of the suspects, including Mr. Saraki.