Tomato Seller Claims N250m Balogun Market ‘loot’

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AS controversies rock the nation over the discovery of a staggering N15 billion in an Ikoyi, Lagos apartment, a man has reportedly shown up at the Lagos office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) claiming ownership of the N250 million found at the Balogun Market, Lagos, on Monday.

An EFCC source who did not want to be named informed Saturday Tribune that “a man came on Wednesday claiming the money belonged to him and that it was the proceeds of his trade in tomatoes.”

“We asked him what business fetched him the money, the man said he deals in bringing tomatoes from the North to sell in Lagos. We asked him why he did not put the money in bank, he said he does not use banks. Meanwhile the money is in bales with bank wrappers bearing stamps dated as recent as 6th April, 2017.

“The man was arrested, his statement taken but has been given an administrative bail as investigations continue,” the EFCC source told Saturday Tribune while adding that the money had been deposited with the Central Bank.

As of press time, EFCC spokesperson in Lagos, Sammin Amadin, was yet to respond to an inquiry on the matter.

N15 billion: EFCC, NIA face off

Meanwhile, the anti-graft agency is intensifying investigations into the source and ownership of the $43.5m, £27,000 and N23m (about N15 billion) found in Osborne Towers in Lagos on Wednesday. It was learnt that searchlights are being beamed on the ownership of the company managing the building.

An EFCC source, who confirmed this, added that a search of the ownership of the company “may show some interesting links with Flat 7b where the money was found.” He did not elaborate on this.

The source, however, confirmed that someone who claimed to be “a diplomat” and an operative of a sister security agency, the NIA surfaced at the apartment while the operation was on on Wednesday and was arrested.

“The man was arrested and made to sit in the sitting room of the flat till the operation was concluded. He protested that he was a diplomat working with the NIA but since we had no order to defer to him, we held and interrogated him. I cannot tell what the position is now about him,” the source added.

The whole money, he disclosed, was moved to the CBN on Thursday.

Director General of the NIA, Mr Ayodele Oke, did not pick calls put through to his mobile telephone line by Saturday Tribune on Friday evening.

An online newspaper, Premium Times, reported, however, on Friday that the NIA boss confirmed to it that the money belonged to his agency but declined further comments on what it was meant for.

Banks jittery as large deposits dry up

A senior banker told Saturday Tribune that deep suspicion is causing deep division between the senior and lower cadres in the sector, regarding those suspected to be blowing the whistle on suspicious accounts, withdrawals and movements of cash, which the anti-graft agencies are reportedly after.

The agencies, particularly the EFCC, have been raking in suspicious cash hauls all over the country with billions in major currencies allegedly recovered.

The recovery attention has suddenly shifted to Lagos with different huge cash amounts allegedly abandoned in different areas of the state being displayed by the EFCC as recoveries yet to be claimed by any owners.

The latest recovery totalling about N15 billion on Wednesday at an apartment in Ikoyi, has introduced a new dimension into the recovery efforts, with National Intelligence agency reportedly claiming it as operational fund.

The public display of the cash, including the bale-load of newly-minted dollars still bearing the logo of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP), the agency statutorily empowered to print US currency notes, is reportedly generating ripples in government circle, as the other security agency continued to kick against EFCC’s perceived indiscretion.

While the security agencies battle each other out over the latest discovery, banks are also said to be quietly sorting out their future without being seen to be impeding the anti-corruption project, particularly in the area of whiste-blowing.

The current raid on the accounts of “highly-valued” customers is said to be giving banks nightmare about their future with the most-treasured “fat-accounts” said not to be coming in again.

Prized depositors and customers are also said to be developing cold feet in doing “huge business with us again. I’m sure you know huge businesses usually come with small small problems”.

While senior officials of banks are always the ones being seen in the public to be cooperating with the investigating anti-graft agencies, it was learnt that the real face of whistle-blowing in the sector, are the junior staff, who have access to “our major banking operations involving major clients”.

Saturday Tribune was told that while strong evidence had connected the junior staff as “the moles”, there is a belief that those involved are doing it mainly for the pecuniary.

“It is all about the commission attached to blowing the whistle on suspicious accounts. They (junior staff) are not doing it because they are anti-corruption agents. It is all about making quick cash and possibly move on, before they are caught. But I can tell you they are mortgaging their future, because all these things (anti-corruption war) would end one day and once they are known as moles, who will engage them going forward. There is nothing that would be hidden forever” a top source said.

There is also the possibility of many junior staffers coming under the sack hammer soon.

Saturday Tribune was told that those suspected are being monitored and may be moved against at the appropriate time.

The cash-trail exercise which is said to have reduced huge deposits drastically, according to a banker-analyst, would soon make the junior staff redundant, because majority of them, is hired to facilitate the coming-in, of such huge deposit.

“Many of them (junior staff) will have to be relieved of their duties. One, objectively speaking, it would be unkind to expect them to start bringing the usual billions in at a time like this. This is an unusual banking season in Nigeria when you have to explain what you have even when no one has accused you of stealing or being in possession of any missing money. Two, the junior staff are mainly the information-source, drying up huge deposits or transactions. So, in the long run, they will have to pay for the emergency millions they make speaking about their customers to government. Anyway, we have heard many of them (junior staff) say that there would be no problem getting their retirement benefit from government early in their lives, through the whistle-blowing commission” the source explained.

A junior staff simply told Saturday Tribune she was already searching for a new job, saying “everything is so much stress”, without divulging much information about what is happening inside her bank.

Saturday Tribune learnt that deliberate efforts are also going on in banks to ensure that “major operations” are shielded from the prying eyes of “those who think they have no future in the system among the staff”.

Months back, Saturday Tribune learnt that about 238 accounts with “curious” lodgements and transactions were being investigated by security agencies.

Though many of the accounts, with huge balance, were said to be under corporate shield, they were suspected to be owned by individuals using their friends in corporate world to hide what is thought to be slush funds.

One of such accounts was under the trade name of a major player in a thriving sector, with a balance in the region of units of billions.

A particular investigative agency moved in for the account, after realising that the balance was not touched for any operational expenditure for years, despite the company obviously needing cash after running foul of a regulatory agency directive.

An order of the court was procured to confiscate the balance.

A big politician friend of the company’s director is suspected to be the owner.

The “curious” accounts are suspected to be housing illegally-made money which could not be kept in a personal account, without raising suspicion, considering that a formal report must be made by banks to anti-corruption agencies when huge deposits come in.

As more Nigerians embrace the whistle-blowing policy, domestic staff and disgruntled employees are said to be leading information providers to anti-corruption agencies.

A more organised whistle-blowing network is also reportedly being put in place, particularly by those with security background, collaborating with unemployed youth who in turn tap into the domestic staff and employee of their targets to monitor movements and file reports.

Private security agencies are also said to be recruiting unemployed youth, with a focus to deploy them as whistle-blowers.

The EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, wasn’t also available for comments on the issue of another security agency laying claim to the N15 billion and other issues concerning the whistle-blowing policy.

He neither picked his call nor replied to an SMS sent to his mobile

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