Amid seeming frustration, the police at the weekend handed over further investigation and possible prosecution of Hon. Farouk Lawan allegedly involved in the $3million bribe-for-clearance in the fuel subsidy probe.
Lawan was said to have put pressure on chairman, Zenon Oil, Mr. Femi Otedola, to pay $3million to get the company’s name deleted from the report of the House Ad hoc committee that probed the fuel subsidy payments. The indicted companies were asked by the panel to refund N1.7trillion to the Federal Government.
Mr. Otedola said he had to succumb to the pressure by releasing $620,000 as part payment. The release of the money was done in a “string operation” involving the State Security Service (SSS). The audio and video exhibits were released to the authorities by Mr. Otedola, who said Zenon which deals in diesel, could not have enjoyed the Petroleum Support Fund (PSF) through which funds were obtained.
But two weeks after turning in the exhibits, the Lawan story had been changing by the day with the police claiming frustration in their attempt to prosecute the lawmaker, who released $10,000 when his house was searched. The ad-hoc panel secretary, Boniface Emenalo allegedly collected $120,000. The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) at the weekend took over further investigation, Daily Sun learnt.
The police force, which conducted preliminary investigations on the matter last week handed over the case file to the acting Chairman of ICPC, Mr. Ekpo Nta. Apart from the case file, the police reportedly handed over copies of the videotapes, which allegedly captured Lawan collecting the now controversial $500,000 from, Mr. Otedola.
A top official of government, who did not want to be named, told Daily Sun that they (Police) washed their hands off the matter when it became clear it couldn’t be treated as a case of extortion or bribery without involving Otedola. The official could still not give a clue as to ICPC’s next line of action, even as it emerged at the weekend that the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges investigating allegation may invite the Director-General of the SSS, Mr. Ita Ekpenyong, for questioning over the reported role of the SSS in the oily saga.
A member of the committee told Daily Sun that the planned invitation to the SSS boss was necessary to help clear the air on the circumstances under which $500,000 changed hands between Otedola and Lawan. The oil tycoon had told a national daily that, following persistent attempts by Lawan to extort money from him, he decided on the “sting operation” to nail the lawmaker.
Lawan, however, has since countered that he received the money from Otedola as “evidence” of the desperation of oil marketers, led by Otedola, to influence the report of his committee. The member, who did not want his name in print, disclosed that Lawan’s testimony before his committee last Thursday, raised several questions which only the SSS boss can provide answers. A key clarification the committee may want the SSS to boss make, said the lawmaker, is whether his agency was involved in the “sting operation” as claimed by Mr. Otedola.
“If indeed Mr. Otedola informed the SSS that Farouk (Lawan) was pestering him for money and they allowed him(Lawan) walk away with the $500,000, then no sting operation took place,” he said. “The element of swooping on a suspected extortionist is the ‘sting’ in such an operation. If Lawan was able to walk through the horde of soldiers, policemen and SSS officials in Otedola’s house, with the $500,000 in his pocket, then somebody is being economical with the truth,” he added.
The lawmaker said the SSS boss may also be requested to provide answers as to why the agency allegedly concealed such information for about two months until Otedola went public. The House member narrated how, apart from the call logs and scores of text messages between Otedola and Lawan, certain documents tendered by the embattled lawmaker helped to weaken the “sting operation” theory of the Zenon boss.
“Lawan presented copies of a position paper which he claimed Femi (Otedola) gave his committee even before they began sitting,” he offered, adding, “Now, the question is why a man whose company is under investigation would write a position paper and present same to the very committee investigating him?”
When Otedola appears before the committee, added the legislator, the committee might be interested in knowing how he came about the KPMG audit report- a classified government document-which he (Otedola) gave the Lawan-led committee at the time even when the Federal Ministry of Finance couldn’t produce it. The House has since suspended Lawan as the chair of the ad-hoc committee.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the House committee on Financial Crimes, Hon. Adams Jagaba, has denied reports that the police invited him to explain his role in the saga. He also reiterated his denial that Lawan officially informed him of the $500,000, challenging the embattled lawmaker to produce evidence that he got such letter. Jagaba, who spoke with Daily Sun at the close of work last Friday, said he was amused at the reports on the alleged police invitation.
“My brother, much as I don’t want to keep making an issue out of this matter, let me state categorically that I was never invited by the police to make any explanations. This is Friday evening. Well, unless the invitation would come on Monday (today),” he said.
On Lawan’s purported letter, he said, “If you write an official letter, I guess there would be an acknowledgment copy. If ever such a letter was written and given me, at least, the acknowledgement copy would prove so. If they have the copy, they should publish for the world to see.”