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Subsidy panel in new N11bn bribery scandal – PUNCH

Chairman of the Adhoc Committee on Petroleum Subsidy, Honourable Farouk Lawan (left) and Chairman, Zenon Petroleum & Gas Ltd, Mr. Femi Otedola (right)

The bribery scandal involving the Chairman of the House of Representatives ad hoc Committee on fuel subsidy got messier on Tuesday.

A source privy to the police investigation into the matter told The PUNCH that the Force had launched a new investigation into a fresh allegation that an additional N11bn in bribes changed hands.

The source, who spoke to one of our correspondents, on Tuesday night, said a member of the committee had told police investigators that some members of the committee solicited bribes totalling N11bn from some oil marketing firms.

The source said that the member, whom he said sang like a canary, also explained how the money was shared.

Efforts made by our correspondents to confirm this new twist to the case, late on Tuesday night, however were abortive.

Also on Tuesday, the Chairman of Zenon Oil, Mr. Femi Otedola, visited the police headquarters in Abuja to brief investigators on his own side of the story.

Sources said Otedola voluntarily went to the police to state his side of the story.

He reportedly spent about an hour answering questions from detectives in the Special Task force team headed by Commissioner of Police Ali Ahmadu.

Our correspondents learnt that the police had invited Lawan but the lawmaker did not honour the invitation to appear before the panel on Tuesday.

He is however expected to show up before the end of the week.

Asked if the lawmaker would be arrested if he did not show up, the source said it was too early to talk about arrest, expressing confidence that the lawmaker would come and shed light on the weighty allegations made against him by Otedola.

Otedola had alleged that the lawmaker pressed him for a bribe to remove his firm from the list of companies indicted by his committee for oil subsidy fraud. He said the request compelled him to involve security agencies in a sting to catch Lawan.

The Otedola-security agents’ collaboration was said to have led to a video recording of Lawan receiving a $500,000 bribe with a promise to remove Otedola’s company’s name from the list. The Clerk of the Lawal-led panel, Boniface Emenalo, also received $100,000 as part of the $3m allegedly negotiated with Otedola by Lawan.

The lawmaker from Kano State had sworn that he did not meet nor collect any money from Otedola. Barely 24 hours later, however, Lawan admitted receiving the said bribe sum from Otedola but that he did so only to expose the businessman’s bribery moves.

The video is said to have been shown to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice-President Namadi Sambo, Senate President David Mark and Speaker Aminu Tambuwal.

It is believed that Obasanjo’s description of Nigerian lawmakers as “robbers and rogues” at a recent public forum in Lagos was informed by his knowledge of, and anger at, the content of the video shown to him.

The PUNCH learnt that the oil baron submitted video and audio tapes of his encounter with Lawan to investigators. The source also said that Otedola wrote a statement in which he affirmed that Lawan demanded and got a bribe from him.

“He is angry that Lawan is telling barefaced lies. So, he decided that since Lawan claimed that he had written the police about the case, the best thing was for him to submit the tapes to the police,” a source said.

Meanwhile, The PUNCH has learnt that the case will be handled exclusively by the police. Checks by our correspondents on Tuesday revealed that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has decided to steer clear of the case since the police had already started working on it.

A source at the EFCC, who confirmed this to our correspondent, said, “The police are investigating the matter. The EFCC is not in the matter and the EFCC cannot be struggling to take over a case which the police are already investigating. The case is not with the EFCC but the police.

“That would be tantamount to a duplication of efforts and functions. If it is true that the alleged video tapes and other supporting evidence have been forwarded to the security agencies, it is not with the EFCC. This is the simple truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

When contacted, the spokesperson for the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, declined comment on the matter.

But a senior police officer, who is familiar with the fact of the case, stated that investigators had not got all the evidence needed to bring the suspect to trial and “put an end to his political grandstanding in the media.”

“The police are not in a hurry to join the fray like the other security agencies involved in the matter. What we know is that as soon as we have all the facts and evidence of the matter before us, the grandstanding by people involved in the matter will be over,” the source said.

He further explained that Lawan would have to convince investigators why he did not tender the first tranche of the money he collected on April 24, 2012 until the matter blew open.

When asked about police probe into the case, the Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Frank Mba, said that he had no information on the investigation, but promised to get across to the investigation department to know the progress recorded so far.

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