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 21st December, 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.