The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has secured a warrant to arrest four top officials of the Rivers State government in connection with N117 billion suspicious transactions. The cash was allegedly withdrawn over the counter in the last three years.
The officials, including the Director of Finance and Accounts at the Government House in Port Harcourt, Fubara Similari and the cashier, may be declared wanted if the move to arrest them fails, it was learnt yesterday.
There were indications last night that the officials had gone underground following the decision of the state government not to hand them over to the EFCC.
After obtaining a court’s green light to arrest the four key suspects implicated in the cash withdrawals, the EFCC has its detectives on standby to arrest them.
“The EFCC is also now empowered by the law to watch-list these state officials which will make it possible to pick them up in any part of the country and abroad.
“So, we are now on the trail of the affected officials. But, if they remain underground, we may declare them wanted.”
Responding to a question, the source said: “None of the officials has immunity from arrest, investigation and prosecution.”
The state government has said that an order that its officials should not be arrested was yet to be vacated.
But the EFCC source said: “The reference to a 2007 court order by the Rivers State government is just a desperate attempt to cling at any straw.
“We have records to show that when Governor Nyesom Wike was Chief of Staff at the same Government House, he was invited, interrogated and detained by the EFCC on June 10, 2008.
“As a law-abiding agency, the EFCC will continue to do its work without fear or favour. We will get to the root of the illegal withdrawal of N117 billion in cash and without official records.”
The source admitted that the bank where the cash was withdrawn refused to avail appropriate agencies of a “Suspicious Transaction Report (STR)”.
“This is a case of gross violation of Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011, especially sections on Special surveillance on certain transactions and Limitation to make or accept cash payment,” the source added.
The Act reads in part: “Special surveillance on certain transactions.
(1) Where a transaction –
(a) involves a frequency which is unjustifiable or unreasonable;
(b) is surrounded by conditions of unusual or unjustified complexity;
(c) appears to have no economic justification or lawful objective; or
(d) in the opinion of the Financial Institution or Designated Non-Financial Institution involves terrorist financing or is inconsistent with the known transaction pattern of the account or business relationship, that transaction shall be deemed to be suspicious and the Financial Institution involved in such transaction shall seek information from the customer as to the origin and destination of the fund, the aim of the transaction and the identity of the beneficiary.
(2) A Financial Institution or Designated Non-Financial Institution shall within 7 days after the transaction referred to in subsection (1) of this section –
(a) draw up a written report containing all relevant information on the matters mentioned in subsection (1) of this section together with the identity of the principal and where applicable, of the beneficiary or beneficiaries;
(b) take appropriate action to prevent the laundering of the proceeds of a crime or an illegal act; and
(c) send a copy of the report and action taken to the Commission.
(3) The provisions of subsections (1) and (2) of this section shall apply whether the transaction is completed or not.
(4) The Commission shall acknowledge receipt of any disclosure, report or information received under this section and may demand such additional information as it may deem necessary.
(5)(a) The acknowledgement of receipt shall be sent to the Financial Institution or Designated Non-Financial Institution within the time allowed for the transaction to be undertaken and it may be accompanied by a notice deferring the transaction for a period not exceeding 72 hours.
(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection, the Chairman of the Commission, the Governor of the Central Bank or their authorized representative shall place a Stop Order not exceeding 72 hours, on any account or transaction if it is discovered in the course of their duties that such account or transaction is suspected to be involved in any crime.
(6) If the acknowledgement of receipt is not accompanied by a stop notice, or where the stop notice has expired and the order specified in subsection (7) of this section to block the transaction has not reached the Financial Institution or Designated Non-Financial Institution, it may carry out the transaction.
(7) Where it is not possible to ascertain the origin of the funds within the period of stoppage of the transaction, The Federal High Court may, at the request of the commission, or others persons of authority duly authorized in that behalf, order that that the funds, accounts or securities referred to in the report be blocked.”