How Maina, Others Stole N14bn from Pension Account – Witness tells Court
The trial of former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, on money laundering charges continued in his absence on Wednesday, as a witness, Mrs. Rouquayya Ibrahim, narrated how he stole over N14billion from the federal pension account.
Testifying before the Federal High Court in Abuja as the ninth prosecution witness, PW-9, Mrs. Ibrahim, said investigations revealed that Maina pilfered pension funds, in connivance with the former Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye.
The witness who is an investigator with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, attached to the Anti Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism, AML/CFT unit, said she was a member of the pension fraud task team that uncovered how names of fake pensioners were used to siphon funds by Maina and his alleged accomplices.
She said the EFCC was in 2010 invited to join in the verification exercise of pensioners, together with other organizations that included the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC, and the Department of State Service, DSS.
According to the witness: “During the course of that verification, my colleagues who were part of the exercise discovered a payment mandate for pensioners bearing names of several individuals for the total sum of about N94m and they decided to sample some of the names.
“On that list they discovered that two names on that list were fake pensioners
“As a result of that, a report was written to the Commission by the team that went for the verification, recommending investigation of the matter.
“Based on that, the pension fraud team was created. We started our investigation by writing to all the banks in existence as at that time, about 32 of them, requesting for the pension account of the Head of Service.
“We also wrote the Accountant General of the Federation, requesting for the pension account of the Head of Service.
“Part of the request was that we also asked the AGF to furnish us with the approvals for the opening of those accounts.
“Part of what our investigation revealed was that the Head of Service at that time, Mr. Stephen Oronsaye, was operating 66 illegal account.
“After we received responses from the banks and other organizations we wrote to, our investigation was able to establish that basically, there were five modus operandi that the suspects who we were investigating at that time, where stealing monies from the pension accounts.
“In total, we were able to establish that at least N14billion was stolen from the pension account”.
The witness told the court that some of the ways Maina and his alleged accomplices stole funds was through making of payments to fake pensioners, through fake collective allowances, through non existent contracts and particularly biometric contracts.
She said the Defendant also made illegal payments to National Union of Pensioners, NUP, and to another association called Association of Retired Civil Servants.
“What we discovered was that the suspects, if the modus they are using is fake pensioners, they would require from the associated persons and companies to give them account details, pension funds would then be paid into those accounts, after which they would withdraw cash and hand over to the person that asked them to send the account numbers.
“Or, they would pay certain companies for non existent biometric contracts or other non existent contracts. In the same manner, once payment is made, the cash is withdrawn and handed over to them.
“Once we concluded the investigation, those who were indicted were charged to court. Some have been convicted.
“For example, trial of Mr. Oronsaye and others is presently ongoing before Justice Inyang Ekwo of this Court.
“Abdulrasheed Maina was initially part of that charge before Justice Ekwo, but because he ran away for six years, he was eventually charged separately after he was arrested.
“During the course of that investigation, we discovered that Maina who was the then Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team at the Head of Service, was deeply involved in stealing pension funds.
“One of the things we discovered particularly was the payment to a company called Zangee Technologies Limited, a company that was appointed by Maina to computerize the pension payroll, which received N153m for none existing biometric contract.
“The money was withdrawn in cash, converted to dollars and handed over to his brother, Khalid Biu, who was a staff of Fidelity bank, who then handed it over to one Ann Igwe Olachi, who was Maina’s Secretary.
“She is presently standing trial with Maina at FCT High Court in Gwagwalada. Zangee Technologies Limited is also standing trial before the court for their own involvement in the theft of pension funds.
“The same company ended up inserting about 15 fake pensioners into the pension payroll, which they were engaged to computerize.
“We also discovered that Fedrick Hamilton Limited, owned by one Osa Afe, presently standing trial with Mr. Oronsaye, who received payment for non existent biometric contracts, handed over about N250m to Maina.
“Our investigation further revealed the existence of six accounts with Fidelity Bank Plc. What we discovered was that out of the six accounts, five of them were linked to Maina.
“We discovered that there was no where on the account opening packages for these accounts, where the name, photograph or signature of Maina appeared on the documents.
“These accounts are: Nafisatu Aliyu Yeldu, Drew Construction Limited, Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Services Limited, Cluster Logistics Limited, Fatima Aliyu. Maina also open one account with his name in Fidelity Bank. There was also another account in the name of Dr. Abdullahi Faizal.
“What we discovered was that, particularly in the account opened by Nafisatu, it bears the name of Maina’s sister with her passport. In the face of it, it appears that the account belongs to her. But when we invited her for interview, we discovered that she did not know the existence of the account even though it bore her picture, name and that of her children. It was not her signature that was on the account package.
“She informed the investigation team that she remembered that at one point, Toyin Masaka who is Fidelity Bank staff, requested for her PHCN bill, but she was not quite sure what he wanted it for.
“That was one of the documents that was used in opening the account.
“She also mentioned that she started receiving alerts initially and she contacted Masaka to complain and he promised to resolve the issue, which he did.
“The five accounts I mentioned earlier were initially opened by Khalid Biu and later handed over to Masaka to manage after Khalid had left the bank.
“What we discovered when we interviewed the account officer in respect of Nafisatu Aliyu was that it was Maina that had absolute control of the account and gave all instructions regarding the account in terms of deposit and withdrawals, concealing his identity, using his sister’s name and photograph.
“The turn over in terms of deposits was over N300m, majority of which was cashed from unknown sources within a very short period of time that Maina was the Chairman of the pension reform task team at the Head of Service.
“We also analyzed the statement of account of Dr. Abdullahi Faizal, which was one of the many variants of the names that Maina uses for his son and himself.
“As at the time that account was opened, his son was still a child. The identity used in opening the account was forged as confirmed by the Federal Road Safety.
“We asked the account officer, Masaka, who was operating the account and he confirmed that it was Maina that had complete control over the account, even though his name, signature and photograph did not appear anywhere in the account opening documentation.
“My lord that account had a turnover of over N1.5billion within nine months of mostly cash deposits from unkown sources.
“We called for the account statement of Drew Construction Limited with Fidelity Bank, and we discovered the same modus of Maina concealing his identity and stealing the identity of his family members, registering companies in their names without their knowledge, opening and operating corporate bank accounts without their knowledge.
“In the case of Drew, it was the name of his elder sister, Fatima Abdullahi Aliyu, that he used. When she was confronted with this fact, it was discovered that she had no knowledge of the existence of the account, even though it bore her name and details.
“The turnover in that account was about N55m, all cash deposits that were made within months and within the period we investigated.
“We also called for the account of Cluster Logistics. That account had turnover of over N500m that were mostly cash deposits. That account was solely controlled by Maina, even though his name and signature did not appear in any of the account opening package.
“From our investigation of the five accounts that were operated by Maina even though his identity did not appear anywhere in the package, we were able to link them to him through his phone number and email address.
“When we invited the account officer, Masaka, a forensic analysis of his phone was done and we discovered emails and text messages between him and Maina, giving and receiving instructions for either withdrawals or deposit pertaining to the accounts.
“Masaka confirmed same that he received instructions regarding all the accounts, from Maina.
“We also discovered that the same thing that happened in Fidelity bank was replicated in UBA.
“We discovered that the 2nd Defendant, Common Input Properties & Investment Limited, was a company that was registered by Maina and his wife, using details of his sister Fatima, taking advantage of his sister inlaw that was the branch Manager at that time.
“She deliberately allowed Maina to concealed his identity without doing the necessary Know Your Customer, KYC, required of her and allowing him to operate the account in the name of Fatima.
“When Fatima was invited, we confronted her with the fact that her BVN was linked to Common Input and Kangolo Limited.
“She complained that she did not know the existence of the company and that Maina had simply requested her to give her BVN so that she would be removed as signatory from the company.
“She said that she told her two cousins that came to meet her regarding the BVN that she was not aware of being a signatory to any company, but innocently gave them the BVN, believing that it would make her not to be a signatory to the company linked to Maina.
“The team invited the lawyer that registered the company and he confirmed that he received instruction for the registration of Common Input form Maina’s wife, Laila, through his sister.
“The lawyer said Laila and his sister were friends”, the witness added before the court adjourned till December 3 to enable her continue her Evidence-in-Chief.
Meanwhile, the court will on Thursday hear a bail application Senator Ali Ndume filed to secure his release from the Kuje Correctional Center.
Ndume who is representing Borno South Senatorial District was on Monday, remanded in custody by the court over his failure to produce Maina whom he stood surety for.
Though the court gave the EFCC the nod to try Maina who is facing 12-count charge, in absentia, it held that his surety would remain in detention pending when he either produced the Defendant or paid the N500million bail bond into the Federation Account.
EFCC alleged that the former pension reform boss used account of the firm and laundered funds to the tune of about N2billion, part of which he used to acquire landed properties in Abuja.
It told the court that the Defendant used fictitious names to open and operate various bank accounts, as well as recruited his relatives that were bankers to operate fake bank accounts through which illicit funds were channelled.
At the resumed proceedings in the matter on Wednesday, the trial Judge said his attention was drawn to Ndume’s application around 8:58am.
Justice Abang said he had promptly directed the court clerk to fix the application for hearing on Thursday.
Though Ndume’s lawyer was not in court, however, counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, confirmed that he was served with both the bail application and hearing notice.
Already, Ndume has approached the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal to challenge his detention in prison custody.
In the 12 grounds of appeal he lodged through his lawyer, Mr. M. E. Oru, the embattled lawmaker insisted that he was denied fair hearing by trial Justice Abang.
Ndume argued that the court denied him the opportunity to show cause why he should not be punished over Maina’s disappearance.
Meantime, the court has fixed December 4 for a member of the House of Representatives Kaura Namoda Federal Constituency, Umar Dan Galadima, who stood surety for Maina’s son, Faisal, to show cause why he should not be remanded or made to forfeit N60m bail bond to FG.
Though Galadima appeared before the court on Wednesday, his lawyer, Mr. Mohammed Sheriff, pleaded for a short adjornment to enable him to file the necessary processes.
Sheriff who told the court that he was just briefed by the surety, said his client would also need a chance to meet Maina’s wife to persuade her to make her son available for his trial.
The lawyer told the court that it was Maina’s wife that begged his client to come to their rescue after all other members of the House of Reps declined to appear as surety for the Defendant.
Maina’s son is answering to a separate three-court money laundering charge that was preferred against him by the EFCC.
The anti-graft agency alleged that he had sometimes between 2013 and 2019, received the sum of N58.11million, being proceeds of a corrupt act by his father.
He was also accused of failing to properly declare his assets before the EFCC.
The court earlier ordered the arrest of the Defendant after he repeatedly failed to appear for his trial.
Following an order the court made for the Defendant to be tried in absentia, EFCC, on Wednesday, closed its case against him after its third witness, Mrs. Ibrahim, testified.