The Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hammed Ali, (rtd), on Thursday, disclosed that the Service has commenced investigation into the ownership of the commercial aircraft hired to convey the $8.067 million seized at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport (MMIA), Ikeja Lagos, last week.
Ali, who disclosed this in Abuja, during an interactive session with the House of Representatives Committee investigating the under-remittance of operating surplus to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) by some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), held at the instance of House Committee on Finance, chaired by Hon. Abiodun Faleke, observed that the money suspected to be money laundering has been handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for further prosecution.
Ali, who gave a vivid account on how the Customs’ officers intercepted the money said, “this is an incident which happened at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, our men had an information that some consignment of money was to be moved and fortunately they put their own men on alert.
“Behold they had a vehicle, NAHCO vehicle driven on the 16th of January driven to the tarmac. Then there were three commercial aircrafts on the ground. Up till now, we are still in the process of investigation to know which of these aircrafts that this money was supposed to be loaded on.
“But the vehicle was intercepted on the tarmac and the Customs personnel accosted the driver and asked him because that vehicle was not supposed to be there.
“The FAAN for whatever reason, they opened the gate which is restricted to the vehicle and that vehicle found its way unto the tarmac. Then it was accosted by our own officers and they insisted they want to search the vehicle and there they found 8 wraps of consignments and they became suspicious. And they insisted they want to know the origin of the wraps and where they are going
“The driver kept mute so he was the first suspect arrested. The Customs personnel arrested him then took the consignment and took it back to the Controller’s office
“There, the consignment was first and foremost put under detention and put in the sequence, then a seizure notice was given and that gave us the right under the law to now open the parcels and see what the contents are
“And that was done in front of all other agencies that work at the airport under a camera. Each of those parcels was opened. There are names written on some of those bundles of money but up to this moment, we don’t know whether fictitious or those names are real names of the people.
“And then the money was counted. They are all in $100 bails, they are all counted and at the end of the day, we found $8,067,612. The only one parcel in small envelope was containing a few ones that are one hundred and seven and the $12 were added to it. That was properly documented and then a seizure notice was issued. With that seizure, the Authority will now take custody of it.
“It is based on that, that we now do the Press Conference to show Nigerians what is happening in our airport. After that, we are doing a preliminary investigation, by right it is not our right to investigate financial crimes at the airport, it is EFCC.
“So we are only going to do the preliminary investigation, put the suspect and the amount together and hand it over to EFCC for an in-depth investigation.
“It is our hope that at the end, the EFCC will reveal who are the owners of the fund, where is it suppose to go, what is it meant for. Those ones are not revealed at this moment. So, I hope EFCC will reveal that and then the public will get to know what the funds are meant for, what is the nature of the fund and what are they suppose to do with it.
“For us, we are suspecting it is money laundering and we are going to hand over to the EFCC,” he assured the Committee.
While commending the Customs for the success achieved so far, Hon. Faleke said: “in a period when United States is giving us conditions under which the so-called Abacha loot must be returned to Nigeria, we also find ourselves, one of us in Nigeria also trying to loot dollars out of our own country. It was quite unfortunate.
“But we commend the agency being vigilant and proactive and all we urge Nigerians to cooperate with Customs and all other law enforcement agencies to assist and give information as to what is happening that is not good. You see something, you say something,” he urged.