In a brief telephone interview earlier today, a representative of The First Group (TFG), a real estate development company through which Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Tukur Buratai, purchased properties in Dubai, confirmed that the company was the target of an investigation by Nigerian authorities. Yesterday, officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) locked up the firm’s offices in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
EFCC sources said the anti-corruption agency closed TFG’s Abuja offices because the firm may be at the center of a massive Ponzi scheme that allegedly scammed Nigerians out of more than $200 billion.
TFG has featured in several recent investigations by SaharaReporters focusing on General Buratai’s purchasesof two luxury Dubai properties. Financial receipts obtained by our correspondents implicated TFG as the firm that midwifed the COAS’s controversial real estate deals in Dubai.
Our reports have placed General Buratai under intense public scrutiny, with many critics questioning how he could afford to make payments for high-priced properties out ofhis army wages. In a statement after our first report was published, a military spokesman claimed that General Buratai had bought the Dubai properties from personal savings. The statement also gave the impression that the top military officer had paid in installments for the properties, a claim contradicted by findings by our investigative team.
In the interview, the TFG representative stated, “I can tell you that there is an investigation into the Abuja office but we are still operating in Nigeria.” He added, “Our Lagos office is still fully operational.”
The representative, who seemed anxious to convince our correspondent that the firm’s operations in Nigeria would not be jeopardized, claimed, “This is a case of a single individual, one client, who could not service their payments.” He then briefly explained how regular payments are expected.
The firm’s representative accused the media of blowing the situation out of proportion, asserting that the firm was not “concerned with these developments.” “We are fully cooperating with the authorities,” he stated.
Asked to respond to the EFCC’s statement that the TFG was running a Ponzi scheme that had defrauded Nigerians out of at least $200 billion, the representative gave our correspondent a different number and said the firm’s officials there would provide further details. “We will be issuing a full statement in the near future,” he said, without providing specific details about timing or where the statement would be issued or found.
SaharaReporters placed repeated calls to the new telephone number (+971 4 455 0100), which is supposed to be at the firm’s headquarters, but none of the calls was answered.