$13bn probe: Senate committee threatens minister

•I did no wrong, he says •We followed the rules –MTN

THE Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, on Thursday, threatened to invoke its powers to sanction the Minister of Trade and Investment, Dr Okechukwu Enelamah, for walking out on it at the investigative hearing on the alleged illegal repatriation of $13.9 billion.

The committee had been empowered by the Senate to investigate the allegation raised against MTN Nigeria, four banks and the minister, through a motion by Senator Dino Melaye.

At the commencement of the hearing on Thursday, the minister had left the meeting without permission.

But the chairman of the committee, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim, said at the close of the hearing that the action by Enelamah was a disregard for the Senate, adding that it would invoke its powers against him if it happened in future engagements.

Senator Ibrahim described the action as “inappropriate,” adding that the chamber demands a more civilised approach from the minister.

But sources close to the ministry said that the minister left because of pressing matters, having arrived the venue on time.

A press statement issued by the Director of Press in the ministry, Greene Anosike, also indicated that the minister did no wrong in the $13.9 billion funds transfer saga.

“All the allegations against the minister therefore, are baseless and without merit,” the statement read.

Chairman of MTN Nigeria, Dr Pascal Dozie, who also appeared before the committee, however, denied that his organisation broke any law in its dealings involving the Certificate of Capital Importation (CCI) with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

A drama ensued when another representative of MTN, its Chief Executive Officer, Mr Ferdi Moolman, told the committee that the 24-hour time frame provided by CBN’s regulations for companies to obtain the CCI for offshore transactions was not practicable.

One of the allegations against MTN was that it circumvented the rules guiding issuance of CCI by obtaining it five years after concluding transactions.

Bank officials, including those of Stanbic IBTC, Standard Chartered Bank, Citi Bank and Diamond Bank, also appeared before the committee and denied wrongdoing in the funds transfer saga.

The Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN), Mr Jim Obaze, who was invited to the panel, however, indicted the CBN and  other financial regulatory agencies for depletions on Nigeria’s foreign reserves.

He blamed what it called poor accountability of regulatory agencies for the allegation involving the $13.9 billion funds transfer.

“The short answer to it is very poor, weak accountability and regulatory practice in Nigeria. The regulatory agencies are not working, but if they are, definitely, a lot of these infractions will not occur,” he said.

Representative of the CBN, Mr Dauda Bature, in his defence, said the bank had already submitted a detailed report of its investigations to the Department of State Services (DSS).

While making a submission, a member of the committee, Senator Bassey Albert said MTN had repatriated nearly double its investment from Nigeria.

He told the committee that while MTN invested $16 billion in Nigeria in 10 years, it had repatriated $25 billion profit within the same period.

While declaring the public hearing open, Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, said the committee needed to be thorough in its investigations as, according to him, the said $13.9 billion allegedly repatriated by MTN from Nigeria was enough to pull the nation out of recession.

Saraki, who was represented by Senate majority whip, Olusola Adeyeye, added that “we are duty bound to make sure that such breach of constitutional processes are investigated and be assured that this is not a witch-hunt but a fact-finding exercise.

“This eighth Senate has devoted a lot of attention on legislations that will improve the business environment. This hearing goes to show this commitment and so we expect maximum cooperation from the regulatory authorities and failure to do so will mean culpability.

“We intend to get to the bottom of this and get the facts and nothing but the fact. At the end of this, based on the calibre of people that are here, Nigerian will get to know the truth about what transpired,” he had said.

Senator Ibrahim also told the gathering in his opening remarks that the investigation should not be seen as a witch-hunt, adding that the Senate was out to block perceived loopholes.