MERRY XMAS

MERRY XMAS

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

N458m bribe: EFCC clears Agbaso, impeached Imo deputy governor
BY VIVIAN ONYEBUKWA and NDUBUISI ORJI
Barely 10 months after Sir Jude Agbaso, former Imo State deputy governor was impeached over allegation of receiving N458 million bribe from a contractor, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has cleared him of the charges.
Agbaso was removed from office by the Imo State House of Assembly in February after the managing director of JPROS International Limited, a construction company, accused him of receiving N458 million bribe, which he alleged made it impossible for the company to have enough funds to complete the road project contracts awarded to it by the Imo State Government.
The Chief Judge of Imo State had constituted a probe panel to look into the allegation, following which the House of Assembly, based on the panel’s report, removed Agbaso from office.
The former deputy governor had stated his innocence and had, in March, written to the EFCC asking the commission to investigate the matter, with the view to finding out if the allegation was true or not.
Having investigated the matter for nine months, the EFCC has absolved Agbaso of blame. In a letter dated November 27, 2013 and addressed to Agbaso, the EFCC stated that its findings revealed that the former deputy governor was innocent of the bribery allegation.
The letter, signed by  Olaolu Adegbite, director of operations, entitled: “Re: Formal request for investigation of Mr. Joseph Dina of JPROS International Nigeria Ltd, a construction company located at 11 Umezuruike Street, opposite Umezuruike Hospital, Owerri, Imo State,” the EFCC stated that the managing director of JPROS, Mr. Dina, in his statement, had said he never gave money to Agbaso or any other official of the Imo State Government over the road contracts.
The letter also stated that there was nothing, from documents and its finding, linking Agbaso  as beneficiary of the contracts.
The EFCC said that following its findings, it would take actions to bring those involved in the allegation and road contracts to book.
The letter from EFCC read: “We refer to your letter dated March 21, 2013 on the above subject and hereby provide our findings so far into the case.
“Road contracts for the sum of one and half billion Naira awarded to JPROS International Nig Ltd was alleged to have engendered fraudulent bribe payment of N458 million by the managing director of JPROS, one Joseph Dina, to you as the then deputy governor and commissioner of works.
“In furtherance of the investigation, evidence adduced from interview of key officials of Imo State government and other important witnesses, as well as documents obtained from relevant financial institutions confirmed that  N1, 305, 000, 000. 00 was paid to JPROS to execute the Warehouse Orlu Road Junction, Odunze Street, Aba Road and Old Nekede Road projects within Owerri metropolis before mobilisation to the sites.
“The total of $5, 538, 830.00 USD was found to have been remitted to the personal accounts of Dina in Dubai and Lebanon. There is so single evidence so far that suggested that you benefited from the funds.
“In his statement to the commission on March 28, 2013, Dina revealed that he never gave any money to you or any other official of the state government over the contracts, which are yet to be fully executed as at the last visit of our officers in April 2013.
“The commission’s legal department is working on the case file, with a view to taking appropriate legal action, please.”
The Agbaso impeachment saga started on February 20, 2013  at  a plenary session of the Imo State House  of Assembly.  The  member representing Orsu State Constituency, Stan Dara, had  raised  a complaint  that two contractors in the state,  Messrs JPROS International Nigeria Limited and Timik Construction Company abandoned work on road projects at Warehouse Road Junction, Odunze-Aba Road, Amaigbo Street to Old Nekede Road and dualisation of Orlu Main Town, after collecting over 100 per cent payments. Dara is also the chairman, Joint State and LG Project Committee.
Based on the complaint, the  House set up a six-man ad hoc committee to investigate the remote causes of stoppage/abandonment of work on the road projects. The members of the ad-hoc committee included  Simeon Iwunze (chairman), Ikenna Emeh, Greg Okemili, Innocent Ekeh, Kingsley Dimaku and Samuel Anyanwu.
In the course of the investigation, the managing director of JPROS International Nig. Ltd alleged that his company could not continue with the project due to the directive he received from Agbaso to deposit N458 million into his personal account as kickback for another 15-kilometre road in two local government areas.
He said for this reason, the company became enmeshed in financial crisis to deliver the contract in question. To substantiate his claim, Dina  furnished the committee with evidence of payment of the money to  the former deputy governor through account numbers allegedly  sent to him  through short message service (SMS) from the latter’s phone No 08033144421.
The committee therefore, concluded that the former deputy governor was guilty of receiving the alleged N458million kick back. Consequently, the House passed a vote of no confidence in Agbaso.
Based on the report of its committee, the House, under the leadership of Benjamin Uwamjumago, wrote to  the state Chief Judge, Justice Benjamin Njemanze,  to set up an impeachment panel to try Agbaso for gross misconduct.
In response, the Chief Judge inaugurated a seven-man panel, consisting  of  Justice G.C Ihekire (Chairman), Vin Onyeka, Egeonu Mere and  Elder Humphrey Ajaelu.
Other members of the panel included  Mrs. Cecelia Chinyere Oladimeji, Mr. James Gozie Eze and Okparaku Nwarie
Two days after the vote of no confidence on the former deputy governor, Speaker of the House wrote to the state Chief Judge to set up a judicial panel to investigate Agbaso’s alleged gross misconduct.
The panel summoned Agbaso to appear before it,  but he instead sent in a two-page letter through Emperor Iwuala.
The former deputy governor, who all along denied asking or receiving any kickback from the contractors, instituted two suits challenging the impeachment proceedings against him.
In a letter to the panel, he contended:  “Since the matters you have been directed to investigate are sub judice, your panel should respect the pendency of these suits, allow the law to take its course or allow the legal or judicial processes to run their full courses. Doing otherwise will be tantamount to preempting the decisions of the high court in the two pending suits.”
Agbaso’s suit was, however, struck out on March 28. Less than three hours, 23 out of the 27 members of the House voted in favour of a  motion for his impeachment. The motion was moved by the Majority leader, Adaku Ihuoma, representing Ahiazu Mbaise Constituency and was seconded by the Minority Leader, Pat Ekeji, representing Aboh Mbaise. Consequently, Agbaso was removed as deputy governor.