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Alleged N37.1bn fraud: Buhari’s minister, Umar-Farouq, shuns EFCC invitation

Former Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Sadiya Umar-Farouq, on Wednesday, shunned an invitation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission probing the N37.1bn allegedly laundered during her tenure in office through a contractor, James Okwete.


Umar-Farouq kept interrogators waiting for over eight hours on Wednesday without an official communication to the commission as to why she didn’t honour the invitation.


The former minister was asked to appear before investigators at the EFCC headquarters, Jabi, Abuja on Wednesday, January 3, 2024, at about 10:00 am, to give an account of the alleged fraud that took place under her watch, a document exclusively seen by our correspondent on Saturday revealed.


However, our correspondent who was at the EFCC headquarters from 9 am to 6.30 pm confirmed that the former minister did not show up at the anti-graft agency’s office for interrogation.


An interrogator, who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity, said the interrogation team had to close from work at about 6pm when they were certain that the former minister was not going to show up.


“We just closed from work now because she didn’t show up today, and it’s 6pm already. It’s certain that she’s never going to show up today,” the source said.


Our correspondent who monitored development at the EFCC headquarters reported that journalists besieged the office in expectation of Umar-Farouq’s arrival.


Recalls that the EFCC invited the former minister to answer questions concerning an ongoing investigation into an alleged N37.1bn fraud uncovered in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.


The document partly read, “The commission is investigating a case of money laundering involving the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development during your time as Minister.


“In view of the above, you are requested to kindly report for an interview with the undersigned. Scheduled as follows: Wednesday, January 3, 2024. 10:00 am. This request is made pursuant to Section 38 (I) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004 and Section 21 of Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.”


The ex-minister could not be reached for comments on Saturday.


Also, when our correspondent contacted her former media aide, Nneka Ikem, over the development, she was evasive.


“As you’re asking me I’ll be asking you too, where did you learn from that the EFCC had invited her?” Ikem asked before ending the call.



Meanwhile, Umar-Farouq had earlier denied knowing the contractor, Okwete, who is still being held by the EFCC.


Responding to the development in a tweet on Monday, Umar-Farouq said, “There have been a number of reports linking me to a purported investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission into the activities of one James Okwete, someone completely unknown to me.


“James Okwete neither worked for, nor represented me in any way whatsoever. The linkages and associations to my person are spurious. While I resist the urge to engage in any media trial whatsoever, I have however contacted my Legal Team to explore possible options to seek redress on the malicious attack on my person.


“I remain proud to have served my country as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with every sense of responsibility and would defend my actions, stewardship and programmes during my tenure whenever I am called upon to do so.”


The spokesperson for the EFCC, Dele Oyewale, declined comments.


“I’m not around at the moment, and I can’t speak on that, please,” Oyewale said.


Sunday PUNCH reported that the EFCC arrested Okwete in connection with the ongoing probe into the N37.1bn allegedly laundered by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development under the former minister, Umar-Farouq.


A top EFCC official, who confided in our correspondent on Sunday, said the contractor had made useful statements concerning Umar-Farouq and former director-generals of the ministry.


The development coincides with the probe of three other ministers, who served under former President Muhammadu Buhari, for graft estimated at N150bn.


“It is not only Umar-Farouq we are investigating. Three other former ministers are also under probe. They were allegedly involved in graft to the tune of N150bn,’’ a credible source in the EFCC had confided in our correspondent.


Umar-Farouq was the pioneer Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.


She was appointed by former President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019.


 

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