N4.5bn fraud: Case predates Nami’s appointment — FIRS

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…As Nami assures taxpayers of transparency

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday, re-arraigned Peter Hena, former Coordinating Director of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and eight other officers of the agency before Justice Toyin Bolaji Adegoke of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

The directors and others had served during the immediate past administration of ex-Chairman Tunde Fowler. These include  Mohammed Bello Auta (Director of Finance), Amina Sidi (Finance and Account Department), Umar Aliyu Aduka (Internal Audit), Mbura Mustapha (Deputy Manager), Obi Okeke Malachy (Services Group), Obaje Napoleon Adofu (Head of Budget), Udo-Inyang Effiong Alfred (Officer II) and Benjamin Jiya (Assistant Director).

Former Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Babatunde Fowler was interrogated recently by the EFCC.

Director, Communications and Liaison Department FIRS,  Dr Abdullahi Ismaila Ahmad, said members of staff being prosecuted by the EFCC are answering charges concerning embezzlement of the Duty Tour Allowances (DTA) approved by the erstwhile management. They were arraigned on a 42-count charge bordering on corruption, fraud and criminal misappropriation of funds punishable under the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended in 2012).

According to him, the ongoing trial of the staff of the Service followed a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) about the alleged fraudulent practices which the accused allegedly committed between 2017 and 2018.

“At the latest hearing of the matter on Wednesday, June 23, 2021, the court fixed the trial date for the case on September 28, 2021,” he said.

The Spokesperson of the EFCC, Mr Wilson Uwujaren had confirmed this to Nigerian NewsDirect.

According to Uwujaren, Fowler was interrogated in connection to an ongoing investigation by the anti-graft agency.

Mr Fowler, who earlier served as the first Lagos State Internal Revenue Service Chairman for eight years, was relieved off his job December 2019 as the FIRS boss.

Their re-arraignment followed the transfer of the former trial judge, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu.

The defendants were docked on a 42- count charge bordering on corruption, fraud and criminal misappropriation of funds to the turn of N4,558,160,676.9 (Four Billion, Five Hundred and Fifty-eight Million, One Hundred and Sixty Thousand, Six Hundred and Seventy Six Naira, Nine Kobo).

Count one of the charge reads, “That you, Peter Hena, Mohammed Bello Auta, Amina Sidi, Umar Aliyu Aduka, Mbura, Mustapha, Obi Okeke Malachy, Obaje Napoleon Adofu, Udo-Inyang Effiong Alfred and Benjamin Jiya while being staff of the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) between January, 2017 and December 2018 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court conspired together with the other officials of FIRS to conceal funds which are proceeds of unlawful activities to wit: Corruption, Fraud and Criminal Misappropriation of Funds and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 18 and punishable under section 15(2) (a) and (3) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 ( as amended by Act No. 1 of 2021).”

The defendants however pleaded ‘not guilty’ to the charges.

Justice Bolaji granted the defendants  bail on the terms earlier offered them by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, and fixed September 28, 2021 for commencement of trial.

Justice Ojukwu had, upon their arraignment on Thursday, March 11, 2021, granted the defendants bail in the sum of N100m each and sureties in like sum. The sureties who must be Nigerian residing in Abuja with landed property within the jurisdiction of the court, are also to provide evidence of Tax Clearance.

She also ruled that the defendants are to deposit their travelling documents with the Court and to seek the permission of the Court before travelling out of the country.

Dr Abdullahi  added that the public may recall that the alleged violation being tried in the court took place between January 2017 and December 2018. The case concerns Duty Tour Allowances (DTA) approved by the former management for travels that were allegedly not undertaken.

However, Dr Abdullahi explained that  on the assumption of office by the new management, the Board of the Service promptly directed it to take the matter before the Staff and Management Disciplinary Committee for necessary disciplinary processes to be activated to deal with the situation.  In line with this directive,he disclosed that the Human Capital Management Department of the FIRS subsequently investigated the matter and thereafter issued queries to the concerned members of staff to give the serving officers a fair hearing.

“The Service had since completed the internal administrative processes as provided in its Human Resources Policies handbook as it relates to the officers still in service. The outcome of this procedure has been kept in abeyance pending the outcome of the ongoing court process.

“The Management of FIRS wishes to appeal to esteemed taxpayers and stakeholders to continue to have confidence in its capacity to deal with internal issues while not also lose sight of its mandate of generating tax revenue for the government.”