Obazee panel hunts ‘conspirators’ in alleged N7tr frauds linked to Emefiele

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    Guardian.ng

    Nigerians may be close to witnessing the unveiling of the biggest financial fraud in the history of the country in the coming months as the team of special investigators set up to probe the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and related entities is racing against time to unravel a slew of crimes already estimated at over N7 trillion.

    The investigators, whose assignment zeroes on activities of the apex bank and related entities under the suspended governor, Godwin Emefiele, are throwing everything into the assignment to untie the web of frauds allegedly committed in the past nine years.

    Recall that President Bola Tinubu appointed former Chief Executive of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC) and forensic auditor, Jim Obazee “Special Investigator” of the CBN and related entities in July. Whereas the terms of Obazee’s engagement were not made public, the President said Emefiele’s suspension letter was attached to the letter personally signed by Tinubu.

    Exactly a month ago, The Guardian reported that the team was expanded to include top Nigeria’s auditors and fraud detectives. It was also reported that the team had spread its tentacles across the financial system with executives of CBN’s consulting firms arrested and granted bail even as top officials of the apex banks were being interrogated.

    After the report, two deputy governors of the CBN – Kingsley Obiora and Aisha Ahmad – were detained by the Department of State Security in connection with their roles in the affairs of the bank during Emefiele’s nine-year stint.

    Fresh updates from multiple sources knowledgeable about the operations suggest that the team is currently analysing documents, memos and oral confessions that could lead to more arrests in the coming days.

    Some revelations that could not be independently verified by The Guardian said some of Nigeria’s foreign missions in the Gulf region were involved in some of the “criminal transactions” in desperate efforts to legitimise the financial crimes.

    It is not, however, clear the extent of involvement of international financial watchdogs in the inquiry so far, but there are indications that several foreign banks would be contacted in the course of the fast-expanding investigation.

    Already, there are rising apprehensions in the offices of the regulator across the country as some directors “who must have played active roles in approving some of the deals” are being interrogated.

    Whereas there are fears that some individuals would be arrested in the coming weeks, a reliable source said the panel was not primarily motivated by haphazard arrests but in concluding the probe and submitting a report on “how the financial system was mismanaged and the regulations compromised to enable the President to decide on what to do to clean up the system”.

    During his inaugural speech, Tinubu promised a “housecleaning” at the monetary authority. Weeks later, Emefiele was suspended and arrested for alleged multiple offences. The President, during a diaspora town hall meeting, described the financial system Emefiele supervised for nine years as “rotten”.

    But there are doubts if the President has a near-perfect idea of how rotten the system is, going by revelations from the panel. Top bank owners and their cronies serving as chief executives are said to be actively connected with the rot Obazee and his team is working round the clock to unearth.

    The panel, according to sources, has pledged not to leave any stone unturned to bring the culprits to book. Obazee, during his days at FRC, had the reputation of a blunt and no-nonsense regulator. He was reported to have snubbed bank chief executives who attempted to bribe him to secure approval for non-compliance financial statements.

    Unconfirmed reports said he had rejected house and sundry gifts on account of sanitising the system. For his unyielding stance on regulatory issues, he was nicknamed the Super Regulator in the financial system. When he moved against general overseers of churches in a bid to enforce FRC’s Code of Conduct for not-for-profit organisation, the weight of politicking came hard on him, leading to his unexpected removal from FRC.

    Already, the team he heads is facing similar pressure from the corridors of power, including the Presidency. A reliable source told The Guardian earlier this week that individuals who are “very close to the President” are making covert and subtle moves to limit or influence the works of the panel.

    “They suddenly realised that it goes beyond politics and that the team wants to do the right thing in the interest of the public. So, they want to influence or limit the investigations. But that is a difficult thing to do; the assignment has started and everybody knows about it,” a source insisted, saying the team is only accountable to the President and Nigerians.

    It was learnt that the investigation is already closing in on some of the political and business associates of the President, hence the move to restrict the investigation.

    Earlier, as reported by The Guardian, Tinubu reportedly told the team to get to the root of the root no matter whose ox is gored. The panel is said to continue to work based on the support given by the President.

     

    Names of top politicians and business moguls are already being mentioned as possible culprits in the emerging saga, and there are fears the President may be forced to succumb to their demands. But already, Obazee is said to have gathered enough dossiers of sleazes that could send dozens to jail if prosecution is allowed to commence and sail through.

    According to different sources, disbursements through different intervention programmes of the CBN and foreign exchange management are central to the investigation.

    So far, the team is said to have uncovered over N7 trillion frauds linked to the embattled CBN boss. Many bank chiefs are also said to have been interrogated in connection with their roles in some of the transactions.

    “The amount involved could be much more, but so far not less than N7 trillion has been uncovered. It is an ongoing exercise. Daily, more facts are being uncovered in the mind boggling crimes committed by individuals saddled with the responsibility of managing the national economy,” The Guardian was informed.

    Speaking with our correspondent yesterday, a source privy to the intense pressure the investigators have faced, said those who are directly involved in the matter are “ready to buy anybody” considering their desperation to get off the hook.

    The Guardian was also informed of cases of evidence destruction within and outside the CBN offices, starting from when Emefiele was arrested. This is said to have slowed down some of the ongoing investigations and efforts to establish clearly how some of the frauds were perpetrated.

    Anxiety over the extent of the investigation is spreading fast in the financial space as searchlight beans on “conspirators”. The Guardian is yet to have the full list of individuals working with Obazee. The majority of the names known have intimidating credentials in fraud investigation, forensic audit, banking and international finance. Some had worked with the CBN previously in different capacities, including consulting.

    “In the coming weeks, heads will roll across the board. The level of rot seen in the system could not have been perpetrated by one man. If that is the case, those who work with him could not have been angels. I don’t know the scale of sanction that will follow but I can tell you that a lot of people will not go unpunished,” a source was quoted in a report published by The Guardian on August 4, 2023.

    With Obiora and Ahmad detained and questioned in the weeks since the probe commenced, the same source insisted yesterday that Nigerians could only imagine the depth of the rot in the system.

    Obazee is said to have maintained safe distance with even old friends since he took up the assignment. A close associate described his style as a shield and typical of him.
    Efforts to reach him on the telephone have been unsuccessful.

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