Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Suswam Authorised Sale Of Benue Shares- BIPC boss

A Federal High Court in Abuja Tuesday heard how former Benue State governor, Gabriel Suswam allegedly ordered the sale of the state’s shares at N10billion.

The Chief Executive Officer of the state’s investment firm, the Benue Investment and Property Company (BIPC) Limited, Mrs. Brigid Shiedu gave details of how the governor authorised the sale of the shares.

Mrs. Shiedu testified as prosecution witness in the trial of Suswam and the state’s ex-Finance Commissioner, Omodachi Oklobia.

Suswam  is currently being tried, with Oklobia, on a nine-count charge of money laundering, in which they were among others, accused of diverting N3, 111,008,018.51k (about N3.1billion) which form part of the N9,411,708,009.51k (about N9.4billion) recovered from the sale of Benue State’s shares.

When trial opened on December 8, 2015 a prosecution witness, Junaidu Sidu told the court how Suswam and Oklobia allegedly connived to divert about N3.1b from the share sale proceeds, using a bureau de charge operator, Abubakar Umar of Fanffash Resources Limited, who allegedly converted the money to $15,800,000 (USD) which he purportedly handed to Suswam in cash at his (Suswam’s) residence in Maitama, Abuja.

Mrs Shiedu said out of the N10bn realised from the sales of the shares, the BIPC Limited was instructed to retain N1bn for the running of the company and reinvestment in real estate business which is part of the company’s areas of interest.

She said the state government’s sole stockbroker, Elixir Securities Limited, which sold the shares on behalf of the state paid the balance of N9bn into the two accounts of the Ministry of Finance with Zenith Bank.

Mrs. Shiedu, who was led in evidence by prosecution lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), said that Suswam had initially instructed her company  to raise N6bn, but later raised it to N10bn, claiming the money would be deployed for the completion of some ongoing projects in the state.

“We discussed on the amount that would be liquidated at the meeting and thereafter we agreed on the sum of N6bn to be raised from the sales of the shares.

“Thereafter the chairman of the board was also invited by the governor. The chairman came and was also informed of this development.

“But the Chairman said the matter needed to be discussed at a full board meeting. So we scheduled a board meeting and the matter was discussed.

“It was at the board meeting that the then Commissioner of Finance (Okolobia) said that due to the magnitude of the need of the state for fund at that time, the amount to be liquidated from the shares as later agreed between him and the governor was N10bn. The board also invited the stockbroker, Elixir Security Ltd, to come and advise about how the money could be raised from the shares,” the witness said.

She added that the approval for the sale of the shares eventually came from Suswam as governor through the office of Government House Administration.

She further said: “They now went to the stock market and started selling some of the shares. I wrote a letter to the then Governor of Benue State for approval for the sale of the shares to go into the transaction and I was given the approval.  The governor was Rt. Hon. Gabriel Suswam. Approval came through Government House Administration Office.

“When they sold the shares, they asked us where the proceeds were to be deposited.When I contacted the Commissioner for Finance (Oklobia), he sent two account numbers to me.

“He sent the account numbers through the Ministry of Finance letterhead. The two accounts were with Zenith Bank Plc.”

The letters of correspondent between her and the governor, which Mrs. Shiedu referred to, were tendered and admitted as exhibits.

Although the defence objected to the admission of the letters, the judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed said the documents would be temporarily admitted until the prosecution was able to prove that BIPC is a public institution.

Justice Mohammed adjourned to February 15 for continuation of trial.

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