Former Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed.
The immediate past Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, has been asked by the Independent Corrupt Practice and other related offences Commission (ICPC) to appear at Federal High Court in Abuja over an alleged N2.5 billion fraud case involving the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC).
Reports have it that ICPC is prosecuting Ishaq Modibbo Kawu, NBC Director General, over “abuse of office and money laundering”.
Kawu, alongside the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Limited, Lucky Omoluwa and the Chief Operating Officer of the same company, Dipo Onifade, were docked before Justice Folashade Ogunbanjo-Giwa of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The Commission, in a 12-count charge, accused them of abuse of office, money laundering and misleading a public officer with the intent to defraud the federal government, in contravention of Section 26 (1) (c) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under Section 19 of the same law.
The presidency had in 2016, released N10 billion to the Ministry of Information and Culture for the digital switch-over programme which entails migration of telephone lines from analogue to digital platforms and a White Paper was issued directing that the process be specifically handled by government-affiliated companies.
Based on the guidelines provided by the White Paper, two companies were nominated to handle the process, one of which was ITS, an affiliate of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA). About N1.7 billion was released to it as seed grant for the commencement of the switch-over.
However, ICPC said that through investigation, it discovered that the process was fraught with alleged corrupt practices.
“It was alleged that Mr Kawu fraudulently recommended a private company called Pinnacle Communications Limited, to the Minister of Information and Culture, for the release of N2.5 billion against the guidelines contained in the White Paper.
“The N2.5 billion was paid into the Zenith Bank account of Pinnacle Communications Limited in May/June, 2017 for the programme.
“The DG NBC during interactions with the Commission could not justify why the government White Paper was flouted leading to the release of money to an unqualified company,” the statement said.
It added that the Managing Director of Pinnacle, Dipo Onifade, during interrogation confirmed the release of the funds to the company. He could not justify that the money was used for the purpose of digital switch-over.
The commission also said through investigation, it discovered several suspicious transfers of large sums of funds from the account of the company into the bank accounts of several organisations and individuals.
It found out that N100 million of the fund was paid into the personal bank account of Mr Onifade in Zenith Bank which he claimed was for legal services that he had rendered to the same Pinnacle Communications where he is employed.
Also investigation revealed that another N450 million was transferred into the account of Sabdat Investment Limited, a Bureau de Change, which then converted the money into dollars and handed it over to the Chairman of Pinnacle Communications Limited, Lucky Omoluwa, in his Kaduna residence as he usually did with other funds.
Omoluwa had repeatedly failed to honour invitations, the Commission said.
“He had also sought the leave of the Federal High Court, Abuja, to stop the investigation as well as unfreeze the Zenith Bank account of the company that was frozen by ICPC, but was however ordered by the same court to appear before ICPC for interrogation before the next adjourned date of 3rd December, 2018 before his case would be heard.
“In compliance with the court order, Mr. Omoluwa has appeared before the Commission where he made useful statements to investigators,” the ICPC added.