…Excess crude fund intact – Finance Minister
EFCC probes banks over third term bribe
By Oluyinka Akintunde & Musikilu Mojeed
The Central Bank of Nigeria had recorded massive and curious with¬drawals in the last seven months fuelling specula¬tions that the government may be withdrawing from the bank to fund the cam¬paign for tenure extension.
The withdrawals were from the Excess Crude Ac¬count kept with the CBN and managed by the Fed¬eral Ministry of Finance.
According to a CBN document obtained on Monday by our correspondents in Abuja, a total of $14.284billion (about N1.857trillion) had been withdrawn from the apex bank’s vault between Octo¬ber 2005 and April 2006.
In some cases, the Fed¬eral Government did not give reasons for the withdrawals. But the CBN said the withdrawals were based on instructions.
The document, which reflected the $6.234billion first tranche of payment to the Paris Club on October 30, 2005, also revealed that $1.387billion and $4.498billion were withdrawn from the excess crude account for the sec¬ond and third payments to the Club.
The government made public the payment of only two tranches as opposed to the three indicated in the CBN record.
The Director-General of the Debt Management Of¬fice, Mr. Mansur Muhtar, however, confirmed to our correspondents in an interview in Abuja on Monday, that the payments were made in three ranches contrary to the two that were publicly announced.
He explained that the total amount paid was $12,2billion as against the $12.4billion ear¬lier announced in the agree¬ment with the Paris Club.
He said that the $0.2billion was gained because the CBN begun currencies swap early, resulting in some savings.
According to him, the bal¬ance would be paid back to the Excess Crude Account. The DMO boss further dis¬closed that the CBN had pre¬pared details of the payments to the Paris Club, which it had sent to the Minister of Finance.
The CBN had between Oc¬tober and December 2005 paid the arrears of $6.3billion to the 15 creditor-countries of the Club, while the second and final tranche of $4.518billion was paid on April 21, 2006.
While the Federal Govern¬ment according to the CBN re¬port, withdrew $75.651million and $77.384million being one per cent commission and pay¬ment to Niger Delta respectively, no reason was given for eight withdrawals totaling $1.535billion (about N199.493billion).
The withdrawals, made without reason, were done on October 31, 2005 ($84(.554million); December 12, 2005 ($170.549million); March 15, 2006 ($471,143); March 20, 2006 ($442,947); March 22, 2006 ($144.063million); March 22, 2006 ($354.562million); March 27, 2006 ($17.290mil¬lion); and March 30, 2006 ($630,115).
Nine withdrawals totaling $477.469million (about N62.071billion) were also pur-portedly made by the govern¬ment to fund the Niger Delta Power Holding Company Plants.
The withdrawals for the Niger Delta Power Holding Company Plants include: Oc¬tober 4, 2005 ($98.359mi1¬lion); December 1, 2005 ($77.802millien); December 21, 2005 ($664,271); Decem¬ber 29, 2005 ($609,145); Feb¬ruary 1, 2006 ($1.934million); March 6, 2006 ($209.502mii¬lion); March 9, 2006 ($899,729); March 29, 2006 ($87.559million); and April 5, 2006 ($138,023).
Report of the curious with¬drawals came amidst wide¬spread claims that proponents of the third term agenda were engaging in massive bribery of federal legislators.
The withdrawals appear a throwback of the past military era when funds were indiscrimi-nately withdrawn from the bank.
There were reports last week that pro-third term senators and members of the House of Representatives were bribed with N50million and N40million respectively as the first installment of the largesse promised them for supporting the third term agenda.
The origin of the fund had been a source of concern to Nigerians.
Four big shots-two of them in top positions in the ruling party; one top senator, and one presidential assistant – were said to have been given N40billion within the last two weeks, to “manage” resistance to the extension agenda.
The CBN usually releases money to the Federal Govern¬ment based on warrants from the Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-lweala and the Accountant-General of the Federation, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo.
The records obtained by our correspondents did not in¬dicate that the procedure was followed.
But the Head of Corporate Affairs of the CBN, Mr. Festus Odoko, said the withdrawals were done on instructions from Okonjo-Iweala and Dankwambo.
He explained, “Every with¬drawal is well documented. What goes into the account is also well documented based on instructions. There are al¬ways mandates from the min¬ister and the AGF and as you know this money is meant for the Federation Account.
“There is no way with¬drawal would be made with¬out the Minister’s and the AGFs knowledge. For withdrawals from the Excess Crude Account, there are dear instructions as to when to withdraw the money.
“The CBN is a banker to the Federal Government. You should know that you cannot withdraw funds from the CBN without clear instruction from the operator of the account, which in this case is the government.”
The Minister of Finance, Okonjo-Iweala, however, said the Excess Crude Account was intact.
The Special Assistant to the Minister of Finance (Media ‘i, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, told our cor-respondents on the phone that the minister had received sev¬eral enquires on the subject.
He said that it was absolutely untrue that the Presidency was drawing funds from it to pros¬ecute any agenda.
On the disbursements to the Paris Club, he referred our cor¬respondents to the DMO for clarifications on any matter con¬cerning these. He quoted the minister as saying that the document on which the story was based was untrue. The Presidency, however, described the allegation that it was withdrawing fund from the CBN to fund the third term project as ridiculous and far¬fetched speculations.
The Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode said, “If you want to know what is going on in the CBN, the ap¬propriate institution to ask is the CBN and not the Presidency. “We refuse to respond to ri¬diculous and far-fetched specu-lations.”
The Economic and Finan¬cial Crimes Commission, on Monday, said three banks had come under its scrutiny for their suspected role in the alleged bribery of federal legislators to vote for the controversial third term clause.
Reports on Friday had said cash was moved from the Abuja-based banks to bribe the legislators to adopt tenure ex¬tension for President Olusegun Obasanjo and state governors.
The Chairman of the EFCC, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, said in an exclusive interview with our correspondent in Abuja, that, “Whenever we hear such things, we always act. Even on Friday we did some work. If there was anything we felt was wrong and improper, we al-ways acted. On Friday, we sent some of our operatives to the banks to investigate.
“Definitely, we are acting on this. Our people are out there and if there is anything that shows that there is a large move¬ment of money, we will check it up. We won’t hesitate to inter¬cept and seize the money.
“We went to a bank on Fri¬day and their documents are with us even now. You just wait, because investigations are on¬going and we have to conclude the investigations.”
Unconfirmed reports said one old generation bank (among the first four) and a sec¬ond-generation bank whose ownership has vast business interests, are also being investi¬gated.
Although the EFCC boss did not confirm it, a source at the commission said the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, an arm of the EFCC, had been placed on the alert to monitor the movement of funds within the bank system.
Reports on Friday had said the coordinators of the contro¬versial third term project had lodged N50million for each pro-third term senator and N40million for each Repre-sentative.