Having submitted its report on the investigation on oil marketers who fraudulently collected over N422 billion in subsidy payments last week, the chairman of the Presidential committee on the re-investigation of the subsidy fraud, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, MD/ CEO of Access Bank PLC, will now have the task to unwrap how $200,000 out of $1m allegedly being illegally ferried from Abuja to Lagos got missing.
National Daily investigations uncovered that the bank may have been involved in illegal funds transfer amounting to millions of foreign exchange using individual staff who are allegedly instructed not to declare the monies at the airport.
Among the staffs who have been involved in this illegal operation is Mr. Nnaemeka Onyegbule, a team lead with Bullion Services with the Area 3 branch of Access Bank PLC. As at press time, the suspect was still under detention since the time he was arrested on the 17th of July, 2012 at the banks headquarters in Victoria Island without the matter been charged to court or the management of the bank enthusiastic of doing so.
The incident is suspected to have caused the death of a relation of the suspect who, after visiting his younger brother who is the suspect, died of cardiac arrest some few minutes after leaving him at the station.
According to National Daily investigations, the suspect who had made statements to investigators at the Special Criminal Investigation Department at Panti, Lagos State has denied taking the missing money and is still surprised why he is the only suspect in the incident since some of the queer transactions he was tasked to carry out are done illegally.
National Daily gathered that the incident started on Tuesday, 17th of July, 2012, when the suspect, Mr. Nnaemeka Onyegbule boarded an Arik Flight W3802 from the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport and bound for Lagos. Before leaving for the airport, the suspect was said pulled the money out from the vault and confirmed the money to be $1m before he packed it inside his bag and left the bag inside his office to make arrangement for a bullion van and driver. When he arranged that, one of his boys named Alex moved the bag to the van with the suspect joining the escort vehicle and they left for the airport with another of the suspect’s colleague named Fredrick. On the way, the suspect was said to have contacted his supervisor, one Ajibola Fashiola who is the Unit Head, Bullion Services in Access Bank PLC, Apapa, Lagos for approval limit of the money the suspect was about to transport. National Daily gathered that the suspect’s supervisor assured that she would get the needed approval from one Kalu Agwu and gave ordered him to proceed. The suspect got to the airport and got his boarding pass and moved the bag to the departure lounge of Arik Air. He boarded the flight without declaring to the relevant airport authority or security that he had cash; a practice the suspect alleged is the practice with such transaction as he had illegally transported more than the amount he did carry on that particular day.
National Daily gathered that the suspect is alleged to have at various occasions transported $2m, ┬ú6.5m, $5m and so on mostly from Abuja to Lagos under the supervision of the said supervisor, Fashiola.
Instead of declaring the cash at the airport and pay a stipulated fee, the suspect allegedly did not do so claiming that that is the way the office (Access Bank PLC) does it since taking over Intercontinental Bank PLC this year.
The suspect, who happened to have joined Intercontinental Bank PLC in 2006 as a Customers Service Office and went to become a salary paying teller in the Customers Service in the Area 3 branch of the bank. He has also worked as SLA in Western Union and had the job description of making payments and transfers. In 2009, he was moved on recommendations to Loan Recovery in 2009 and sent to the Ladoga Akintola Branch as House Officer in charge of ATM machines where he handled weekly cash count running into billions of Naira. He remained in that position till 2011 and relieved his Head of Department who was sent to a branch in a West African country. After being absorbed into Access Bank PLC he was put in charge of Bullion Services in Abuja until November 2011 when he took over as Team leader.
Inside the Arik Flight.
After boarding the aircraft, the suspect sat on seat 4F, near the window and put the bag containing the money on the overhead locker. National Daily gathered that the suspect stated that he noticed a passenger in seat 6F going through the locker near the bag but did not bother to check as his bag had a lock. Before the departure of the flight, the Arik Air Cabin crew supervisor, one Taiwo, was said to have adjusted the bag and put the suspect on inquiries that the bag was at the edge. The suspect was said to have checked the bag and remained seated.
It was when the flight landed at Lagos that the suspect opened the bag to check and discovered that $200,000 out of the $1m (USD) was missing. He called the attention of the Cabin crew supervisor who asked if he declared the money otherwise Arik would not bear responsibility.
This will not be the first time an accusation of alleged theft is being mentioned inside an Arik flights. In April this year, a passenger on board Arik Air flight W3 162 from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja to Murtala Muhammed Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, suspected to have stolen N200, 000 belonging to another passenger on the business class after opening the overhead cabin, pretending to be for missing items in his luggage, but picked the money that another passenger kept in a bag. It was the vigilant eyes of another passenger that got the suspect to be apprehended.
Also in June, a Nigerian writer and blogger, Mr. Japheth Omojuwa, accused Arik Air cabin crew of stealing his Ipad which he forgot under his seat inside an Arik flight with one of the cabin crew members allegedly confirming the Ipad was found but “put” back into the complainants bag. When contacted on the issue, Arik Air Media Officer, Mr. Ola Banji said he was not aware of the incident.
Onyegbule , claiming he did not want to draw attention to himself insie the aircraft, put a call to his branch in Abuja to confirm all the money was taken or if there was an excess of $200,000. He called one Uduma Yaba who informed him that no such money was left behind. The suspect then waited for the bullion from Lagos to pick him and went to deposit $800,000 at the Alausa Branch of Access Bank PLC in Lagos. He then called his supervisor who is the Unit Head of Bullion Services to inform her of the situation; she directed him to report at Apapa branch from where he was asked to come down to the Head office at Danmole Street, Victoria Island.
National Daily gathered that when the suspect arrived there, he was taken to Fraud and Investigations Department where one Mr. Omobola was alleged to have assaulted the suspect and threatened to strip him if he does not confess where the money was. The suspect was later taken to Bar Beach Police Station and detained there. The suspect was detained at the police station for three nights before being transferred to Panti police Station also in Lagos and that got his family worried.
The suspect’s wife. Mrs. Petra Onyegbule got a call from her husband informing her of the situation and she rushed down from their Abuja residence and flew down to Lagos, leaving her two year old daughter with a neighbour in Abuja to make enquiries on the situation and started asking why her husband had not been charged to court as he had been under detention for longer than 48 hours. National Daily gathered that when the family got wind of that he was been transferred to Panti on Friday, they went to the bank’s head quarters to make enquires and ask questions. Some of their queries where, why was the suspect not charged to court? Why was Access Bank PLC not showing face at the police station but giving instructions over the phone and the wife demanded why she was not contacted since her husband was arrested? Sources informed National Daily that a big row occurred at the bank’s head office when a certain Omobola told the suspect’s wife that she should be begging the bank than coming to ask questions.
Evidences gotten by National Daily investigation of the shouting match that happened inside the banking hall revealed that the Access Bank PLC staff that finally had to calm the situation apologized to the wife that nobody called her to inform her and explained to her what the bank management does in the case of such incidents.
When the suspect’s wife raised concerns that the bank was endangering the life of the husband by calling him at ridiculous time of the night by a certain Ajibola Fashiola demanding for huge amounts of money, the bank official responded by saying, “ your husband signed up for this job and knows what he is doing. He has the option of resigning.”
Suspect’s brother dies.
On Sunday, 22nd July, 2012, the elder brother of the suspect, Mr. Okwudili Onyegbule, who resides at Ibidun Street, Surulere, Lagos, went to visit the suspect at the police station. After seing the condition the suspect was, the brother had cardiac arrest on the short drive from Yaba to Surulere. He was said to be hypertensive and may have suffered a heart attack. He was deposited at the Yaba Military Hospital and was buried over the weekend in their hometown of Mbaise in Imo State.
Home searched days after.
The suspect was later flown to Abuja and had his house searched and had his passport and the passports of his wife and two year old daughter confiscated. National Daily also gathered that he has since been returned to Lagos and is still been detained in Panti while his accounts with the bank had been frozen.
When National Daily contacted the Deputy External communication Manager of Access Bank PLC, Mr. Segun Fafora, he declined answering some questions National Daily sent saying that the matter is under investigation and at such the bank will not respond. National Daily asked the bank;
1. Does Access Bank PLC transfer huge sums of foreign exchange through individuals?
2. Does this practice not go against the Cashless society policy of the CBN?
3. Why did the Bank wait for some days before the premises of the suspect were searched?
4. Is the suspect in custody the only suspect in the case?
5. Has the CCTV in the originating branch been accesses and evaluated to ascertain where theft occurred?
6. Does Access Bank PLC evade declaring such huge sums from the relevant authorities?
7. Why is Access Bank PLC staff asked not to declare such monies to authorities?
8. Why is AB not interested in charging the matter to court?
9. Did the bank obtain a warrant to freeze the suspect's account?
Even as some of those indicted by the Aig-Imoukhuede committee have been charged to court few days after the report was submitted, the question remain why the suspect is yet to be charged to court over the alleged offence; a question only those in charge of the case can answer.