Alleged N1.4bn Fraud: Court Forfeits Properties, Funds Links To Maize Growers’ President, Prof. Edwin

 

Justice Tijjani Ringim of a Lagos Federal High Court, today, ordered interim forfeiture of some properties and the sum of N1,473,367,046.04 billion and $50, 000 USD, links to Professor Uche Chigozie Edwin , the National President of Maize Growers, Processors, and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN) and his syndicate, over alleged fund diversion and fraud.

Justice Ringim, after forgetting the properties and monetary sums, also made an order directing the publication of the items forfeited in any widely circulated National Newspaper, to enable any interested party appear before Court to show cause within 14 days why the final order of forfeiture of the properties sought to be forfeited should not be made in favour of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

Properties ordered to be forfeited in the interim are; a 4 bedroom detached duplex lying being and Situate At House 13, Road 2, Setraco At Gwarinpa Ii Estate, Abuja, purchased at the sum of N120 million; all that property lying being and situate at plot 284a, road 7, No.11 Okeikpe Street, Aladinma Housing Estate, Owerri, Imo State; a plot of land lying being and situate at Mkporo Isiojabi, At Umuofor Eziobo, Eziokele Autonomous Community, OWERRI West, Imo State; a plot of land known as Okwu-odajuruba (Njikatu), Lying Being And Situate At Umunbiakwa, Umudukwo, Umuagwo In Ohaji/Egbema LGA Of Imo State 

Others include; a plot of land known as ishiawom Farmland, lying being and Situate At Umunebo Obokwu Obinze, Owerri West Lga Of Imo State; 3 Toyota Hilux Worth N34, 010, 500 million and cash sum of $50,000 USD Cash.

Justice Ringim also ordered that the total of N1,473,367,046.04 billion, kept in different bank belonging to different firms.   

The said sum were listed as follows: the sum of N627, 883, 146.04 million, domiciled UBA Plc account number 1022228719 belonging to Visionary Integrated Consulting Ltd; acct number-: N40 million domiciled in Fidelity Bank’s account number 4010787569, belonging NEMAD Associates; N35 million in Access Bank account number 0070740227, belonging to MAGPAMAN and the sum of N770, 483, 900 million belonging to Skyborn Integrated in  Ecobank account Number 0350013777.


Justice Ringim granted the interim forfeiture orders sequel an application moved and argued by Miss Chineyenwa C. Okezie, who told the court that the application for the orders ‘was pursuant  to Section 44 (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria As Amended, Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud And Other Fraud Related Offences Act No. 14, 2006, and under the court’s inherent jurisdiction.

Granting the prayers, Justice Ringim held: “I have perused the motion and affidavit with the written address just adopted by the counsel for the applicant. 

“I’m satisfied with all the averment in the affidavit. Consequently prayers one and two are hereby granted.”

The matter has been adjourned till May 9, 2023 for report of compliance.

The EFCC in an affidavit deposed the by one of its operatives, John Micheal Idoko, stated that it received an anonymous petition dated September 23, 2021, alleging a case of Economic sabotage, Money Laundering and Criminal diversion of funds against Prof. Uche Chigozie Edwin, the National President of Maize Growers, Processors, and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN) and his syndicate. Adding that the said intelligence was analysed, found credible and worthy of investigation and was assigned to my team for investigation. 

The deponent stated that that his agency’s investigation revealed the following: “That MAGPAMAN was incorporated fn Nigeria in 2016 with RC No: 80317 as a Non-Governmental Organization solely for the purpose of providing support to Maize Farmers based on global best practice, marketing access to finance, capacity building, mechanization, and technology to farmers, and attracting government and development partners support to farmers. 

“That Uche Chigozie Edwin is the National President of the Maize Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN), and also the signatory of the Association’s accounts. And that the MAGPAMAN’s National President and his syndicate used their position to divert and convert resources disbursed by the Central Bank of Nigeria to the Association for the purpose of Maize cultivation under the Wet Season Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) of the CBN for smallholder farmers registered under MAGPAMAN through Ecobank Nigeria Pic to enrich themselves. 

The deponet stated further that the MAGPAMAN’s National President used his office to award contracts to companies incorporated by him without following the modalities for the selection of their vendors, and also used these companies to launder funds gotten illegally. And that Ecobank Nigeria Plc is the Participating Financial Institution for the Association pursuant to the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP). 

The deponet averred that in 2020, the MAGPAMAN entered into a Tripartite Agreement with Ecobank Plc as well as the Service Providers/Input Suppliers pursuant to the CBN Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP). And that the tripartite agreement was to be signed by the National President of MAGPAMAN, Representative of Eco Bank, and Input Suppliers and Service Provider’s Companies. Adding that the aforesaid Tripartite Agreement, and the CBN’s Anchor Programme guidelines, prerequisite among others, of each party, (i.e, Ecobank, MAGPAMAN, and Input Suppliers/Service Providers).

He stated that contrary to the condition precedent set out in the agreement, no Project Management Team (PMT) was constituted, neither was there any verification of farmers, farm sizes, nor any town hall meeting held throughout the project. And that contrary to the said agreement, Ecobank also failed to carry out their responsibilities of verifying the list of individual farmers, and their farmlands, conduct search on the NCR, or any sensitization of any sort as spelt out in the tripartite agreement, and anchor borrower’s guideline. 

He stated that there were no real farmers or farmlands in some states, so cross-guaranteeing of the farmers, and training never took place in flagrant and criminal breach of the trust contained in the agreement. Adding that Central Bank of Nigeria disbursed to Ecobank Plc a facility in the sum of N10, 005, 614, 954.74 billion, on behalf of 54, 837 Farmers in (36) states in Nigeria including FCT Abuja code named ‘MAGPMAN FARMERS’, 

He averred that Ecobank Limited has so far disbursed a total sum of N8, 557, 606, 253.13 to the input suppliers/service providers in tranches under instructions of MAGPAMAN. And that the Respondent is one of the directors of Visionary Integrated Consulting Limited, a company incorporated by Mr Uche Chigozie Edwin to which he awarded contracts to without following the modalities for the selection of their vendors, and also used to launder funds gotten illegally. 

He stated that the said Professor Uche Chigozie Edwin received the total sum of N1, 473, 367, 046. 04 billion, as Kick Back for services not rendered from the service providers/input suppliers through the following account details provided by him. 

He also stated that from the payment which sum is reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities, the said Professor Uche Chigozie Edwin, used the sum of N87,150,000.00, to acquire the properties by transferring the sum to one Muawiyya Haruna account number 2099173876 domiciled with UBA. 

He also stated that the states Chairmen of MAGPAMAN transferred cash to the National President’s Account rather than aggregating grants for the loan repayment. Adding that Ecobank Plc, has transferred the sum of 2,144,174,758.93 billion, into the CBN/ABP Repayment account being the unutilized funds for MAGPAMAN under the Anchor Borrowers Programme 2020 Wet season Farming. 

The deponet stated that it is in the interest of justice to, in the interim, make an order of forfeiture to the Federal Government of Nigeria and allow any person who has interest in the properties sought to be forfeited to appear before the Court within 14 days to show cause why the properties reasonably suspected by the Applicant to be proceeds of unlawful activities should not be forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria. 

It would be recall that on March 16, the EFCC arraigned Professor Edwin and three of his firms, Visionary Integrated Consulting Limited, NEMAD Associates Limited and Revamp Global Enterprise, before the court presided over by Justice Nicholas Oweibo, of a Lagos Federal High Court, on an 11-count charge of conspiracy, retention and conversion of funds to the tune of N1, 473,367,046.04.

The EFCC alleged that the money belonged to Maize Growers and marketers, adding that the defendants committed the offences “sometime in 2021 in Lagos”

One of the counts on the charge claimed they “conspired to use the sum of N1, 473,367,046.04 property of the Maize Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (MAGPAMAN), which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of your unlawful activity to wit: fraud; and you thereby committed an offence, contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.”

Edwin pleaded “not guilty” to the 11 counts and was granted N1 million bail.

The case was adjourned till June 27, for commencement of trial.