August 12th, 2012
There is an uneasy calm within the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) over threat by some of the fuel subsidy fraud suspects to open up in court on what the cash was used for.
Some of the suspects are bemoaning their fate, wondering why they are being prosecuted as they were allegedly used as fronts to source funds for the 2011 general elections
Related: NewsRescue- Democracy Fails Africa
It was learnt that some of the suspects allegedly spent the cash to sponsor governorship elections in some states.
Uncomfortable with the development, some PDP governors have waded into the travails of the embattled suspects. The governors have assured the suspects of what an insider described as “soft-landing”. They have also promised to fund the litigation cost of the suspects by hiring for them crack defence counsels.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has so far arraigned 25 suspects (in two batches) in connection with alleged fuel subsidy fraud.
The first batch comprises seven companies and 13 individuals in relation to N13, 403,504,083billion.
The second group comprises five suspects.
Although the arraignment of the suspects was a bold statement by the government that there will be no sacred cows, the trial is causing some disquiet in the ruling PDP. The Presidency is said to be particularly bothered by the turn of events.
A reliable source, who spoke in confidence, said: “Some of these suspects were used as fronts by some businessmen, party bigwigs and a few government officials. In fact, there is a Sierra-Leonean among them and a confidant of a PDP chieftain went to secure bail for him.
“The only excuse the confidant gave is that the suspect is a friend to one of their children. But most people could read between the lines. I think the Sierra Leonean was just being protected to avoid opening of the can of worms.”
Though the source was convinced that a substantial part of the subsidy funds was used to fund the 2011 elections, he said this was without the knowledge of the Presidency. When the President got to know the magnitude of the subsidy fraud, he decided to take the bull by the horns, irrespective of whose ox is gored, he said.
“A syndicate within the oil sector came together to pool funds for the 2011 election to ensure that the PDP retained its firm grip of power. In fact, two or three of the suspects are known to some PDP governors as fronts in view of the roles they played in their election. The biggest challenge confronting these influential people borders on threats by some of the suspects to open up in court,” he said.
To opposition parties, however, the Presidency cannot claim not to know that the subsidy cash was being diverted to unworthy causes by people close to the PDP whose members were in charge of either the PPPRA or other agencies of the oil industry.
The Nation learnt that PDP chieftains are so worried about the backlash the trial of these suspects could have on the fortunes of their party in 2015 because some of them were innocent businessmen before they dabbled into politics to feather their business nest and became polluted.
“One of the suspects was alleged to have complained bitterly on why he had to be arraigned by the same PDP administration he had assisted to retain power in some states.
“The suspect also queried why he had to be singled out among other directors of his companies while others were shielded.
“Some governors have been trying to wade into the complaints by some of the suspects and how to ensure soft-landing for them. They seem not to know how to go about it, considering the fact that the subsidy scam has generated so much interest, including that of the international community. This has forced the governors to opt for Plan B by looking for crack defence team to handle the matter.
“Nobody could say whether the choice of crack lawyers would assuage the threats of these highly-placed suspects to open up or not when proper trial begins, “ he said.
A governor said: “There is no doubt that some of the suspects are known in power corridors unless we are all pretending. It is, however, courageous of the government to put them on trial to show to all that closeness does not amount to fraudulent acts.”
Fresh facts have, however, emerged on how a staff of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Fakuade Babafemi Ebenezer, and a director with Akintola Williams Deloite accounting firm, Ezekiel Olaleye Ejidele, got into trouble over the fuel subsidy scandal.
According to findings, while Ebenezer was a Facility Receptionist/Clerk for PPPRA where products are discharged, Ejidele was in charge of audit. Both suspects operated with officials of the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and other agencies at the ports where products were discharged.
EFCC sources said they were arraigned for allegedly signing some papers indicating that some products were discharged whereas investigation proved the contrary.
It was, however, learnt that some oil chiefs are asking why some other officials involved in the management of The Petroleum Subsidy Fund (PSF) who also authenticated documents by suppliers have not been arraigned
A former Commissioner of Police said the conspiracy over subsidy fund fraud could be deeper than what the media are reporting
He said: “The PSF management is a chain. Besides the PPPRA, others involved are the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank, the DPR, Budget Office, Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF), and Oil Marketing Trading Companies.”
“All these so-called forged documents passed through many desks before payments were effected to the marketers. Where are those who managed these desks when the fraud was perpetrated?
“The principles of Petroleum Support Fund (PSF) are such that no single oil marketer could perpetrate fraud or divert funds without the collaboration of some people or desk officers in government.”