Femi Otedola, billionaire businessman, says he was the one that alerted former president Goodluck Jonathan to the fuel subsidy scam in 2010, even though he was later blackmailed by the house of reps committee that probed the fraud.
He was testifying at an FCT high court on Wednesday as a prosecution witness in the criminal case against Farouk Lawan, who chaired the house probe committee, by the federal government.
Otedola, who owns Zenon Oil and Gas Ltd and Forte Oil (formerly called AP), told the court that when he informed Jonathan that many companies were collecting subsidy payments without importing any product, the president did not believe him.
He thereafter went on to inform Senator Bukola Saraki, who raised the issue on the floor of the senate.
Otedola told the court: “Between January to April 2012, I was resident in Lagos. I knew the defendant (Lawan) as the chairman of ad-hoc committee investigating the subsidy scam. The committee was set up by the house of representatives.
“In 2010, being the chairman of African Petroleum Ltd and also the CEO of Zenon Oil and Gas Ltd, I realised that companies in Nigeria were claiming money for subsidy on petroleum products they never imported. When I saw how much was being stolen, I went to the then President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan. I told him my observations. He told me later that he had consulted with the Minister of Petroleum and that there was nothing of such.
“I then reached out to Senator Bukola Saraki who raised the issue on the floor of the senate and thereafter, the house of reps set up the panel to investigate the allegation. The defendant reached out to me and I gave him the background information as to how the monies were being stolen. I gave relevant information to the ad hoc committee. I have two companies which are in the oil and gas industry which are AP and Zenon oil.
“The two companies had something to do with the defendant’s panel. AP submitted to the committee documents regarding all the importations of the company. Mr Otaru, general manager AP, had direct contact with the defendant’s committee.
“On 18th of April, 2012, the defendant came to see me at my house in Abuja after the report of the committee had been laid before the house of reps in plenary. He told me that pursuant to what we discussed on phone while I was in the UK, he told me that he was going to indict Zenon Oil and Gas Ltd. He demanded for the sum of $3m USD to exonerate Zenon Oil. I said to him that why will he indict a company that does not import petrol but diesel. He said most of the companies indicted have paid bribe. I told him this is extortion.
“I was in Nigeria when the report was laid before the house of reps. I saw it on the television, NTA on the 18th of April 2012 and I saw that my company was listed as one of the companies involved in subsidy scam. I wrote a petition to the DG DSS to complain. When the report was laid, I was shocked and I had several calls from my international partners and my bankers.”
He said it was after his petition to the DSS that a sting operation was set up against Lawan.
He continued: “After my petition to the DG DSS, I received a call from the DSS official, one Mr Caleb ,who told me that they were going to carry out a sting operation. He told me that I would be provided with serialised USD to give to the defendant and they were going to install video recording gadgets in my living and dining rooms. About six operatives of the DSS did the installation.
“I was given 620,000 USD serialised dollars. After the report was laid on the floor of the House of Reps, the defendant called me that if I made $3million USD available, he would exonerate my company. I said to him that this is unfair to a country that has lost about the sum of N1trn to subsidy scam. I took the instruction of the DSS and I agreed to play along.
“On Exhibit PW1 B7 page 29, I can see the name of my company on No. 6; Zenon Oil and Gas Ltd, titled ‘Those who obtained forex but did not import petroleum product.’ On 23rd April 2012, I was in my house in Abuja. The defendant came to my house and I handed over to him the $500,000 USD given to me by the DSS. After handing over the $500,000 USD to the defendant, I asked him what next, he said would go to the House and discuss with its leadership. He said I should watch House plenary on the television.
“He claimed that my company obtained $232m USD from the CBN. I said it is not possible to obtain such money from the CBN without importing any product. Shortly after, I watched it on the television where the defendant applied to the House in plenary that the name of Zenon Oil be removed from the subsidy scam which was then removed.
“The EFCC investigated the subsidy scam and investigated my companies and found out that we were not involved in the subsidy scam. The defendant was at my house on 24/4/2012 at about 12 midnight and 1.00AM.
“In the morning of 24/4/12, my GM Mr Otaru did mention to me that the PW1 needed to collect money from me as the secretary of the committee. PW1 came to me and I handed over $120,000 USD to him.
“After the removal of the name of Zenon oil from the report, the defendant called me for the balance of $2.5m USD. I told him its being arranged that it will be loaded into an aircraft to Abuja. He said I should inform him when the aircraft arrives that he will give me the name of person who would pick up the money.
“The meeting I had with the defendant in my house was captured by a video recorded by the DSS. I saw the video on YouTube and social media.”
THE EFCC PROBE
He said he was later invited by the police.
“I honoured the invitation. I was asked to write a statement by the police of what happened, which I did. I did not put any pressure on the committee. I could not have put pressure on the committee because Zenon oil was not involved in the theft of subsidy fund. Eventually, the EFCC investigated the companies involved and prosecuted the indicted companies,” he said.
“Moreover, the company Zenon oil does not import PMS and never applied for the petroleum support fund. The defendant did demand 3million USD and if he did not demand, why would he collect $500,000 USD from me and still expect $2.5 million USD? My company did not supply documents to be exonerated. The defendant did mention to me that the $3million USD is going to be shared by himself and other officials of the house. I did not offer him 3million USD . My company is one of the biggest players in the industry. I reported the scam on my part and I could not have offered him money.”
After the testimonies, Angela Otaluka, the judge, adjourned the matter till January 28, 2019. (The Cable)