Sunday, March 18, 2012

N44m bribe: EFCC, ICPC to investigate DG SEC, committee chair

    The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission on Friday accepted the open invitation of the House Committee on Capital Market and other Institutions to probe the N44m bribe allegation made against it by the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Arunma Oteh.

    On Thursday during a House of Representatives hearing on the Nigerian Capital Market, Oteh had told a stunned audience that the committee demanded gratification in the days preceding the hearing.
    Oteh had said that the committee demanded N39m from SEC to fund the hearing and that the chairman of the committee, Mr. Herman Hembe, had asked for N5m from her 24 hours before the hearing.
    “In asking the SEC to contribute N39m for this public hearing, don’t you think that you are undermining your capacity to carry out your duties?” she asked.

    Oteh, who said that she turned down both requests, further alleged that SEC sponsored Hembe on a purported trip to the Dominican Republic to attend a conference on capital market operations in 2011.
    Immediately the SEC boss finished speaking, Hembe who described allegations as being ‘aimed at derailing the objective of the hearing,’ called on the EFCC and ICPC to launch an investigation into them.
    Both agencies told SUNDAY PUNCH that they were ready to investigate the bribery allegation to get to the root of the matter.
    A very reliable source at the EFCC told our correspondent that the agency received open invitations.
    The source, who pleaded anonymity because she was not authorised to speak on the matter, said, “Both the accused (Hembe) and the accuser (Arunma) have to tell us everything they know about the allegation with proofs to substantiate their claims.
    “If the DG says Hembe demanded bribe from her, she has to show proof. She also has to prove that the committee demanded the sum of N39m; these are very grave allegations. Also the committee and its chairman have to respond to whatever documents or statements Ms. Arunmah makes.
    “This calls for a substantial enquiry and they will be hearing from us soon.”
    The source however declined to comment on how soon both parties will receive their letters of invitation.
    “It is something we must do. It was broadcast live on television and everyone heard the chairman invite us. It is a call to duty,” she added.
    When contacted, EFCC’s Acting Head, Media & Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said, “We are following the development at the public hearing and we are going to look into the issues raised in respect of those allegations of bribery.”
    Also speaking on its role in the investigations, ICPC’s Resident Media Consultant, Mr. Folu Olamiti, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the anti-graft agency would also be demanding a copy of the committee report.
    Olamiti said the report would help the agency’s investigations.
    “We are going to ask for the full report. Also, we are going to demand a written invitation from the chairman. What he said was a verbal invitation that was broadcast but we are going to ask for more and take it up from there.”
    Meanwhile, sources close to the SEC DG told our correspondent on Friday night that moves were being made by some stakeholders to end the rift between Arunma and the committee.
    “We need to protect the capital market at this crucial time. We are receiving calls from all over the world and that is not good for the integrity of the house. We are not going to engage in a verbal war because stakeholders are already holding talks on how to have a peaceful resolution. But let’s wait and see what Tuesday will hold.”
    A cross-section of lawmakers however told our correspondent in Abuja that the ICPC and EFCC would have to step into the matter because the allegations were too grave.

    Investigations by SUNDAY PUNCH showed that Oteh’s allegations threw the House off balance, forcing the leadership to convene a series of meetings from Thursday night.
    One account claimed that Hembe was invited to one of the meetings to hear his account of what exactly transpired at the committee’s sittings.

    But, when contacted, the House Deputy Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, denied that the leadership met over the altercations between Oteh and Hembe.
    When asked what would become of the probe, Ogor said that it would continue on Tuesday but added that he was not sure of the direction it would take.

    According to him, the investigation was a product of a resolution of the House, which could only be halted by another resolution of the House in plenary.
    He added, “The probe will certainly go on; whatever happened on Thursday did not change the original course of the investigation.
    “The House is looking for how to resolve the challenges in the capital market; so, any personal issues between two people at the hearing did not alter the intention of the probe.”

    When asked whether there was a possibility of the House advising Hembe to step aside, Ogor responded, “I can’t say so; I think it is the speaker’s decision to make. By Tuesday, the picture will become clearer.”
    Findings indicated that an option of halting the probe was allegedly canvassed at one of the meetings, but it was discarded because members argued that such a step would be giving credence to Oteh’s allegations.
    Another influential member of the House informed SUNDAY PUNCH that by the rules of the House, no actions could be taken on the matter before Tuesday.

    The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, said that the House would not give any position on the matter before Tuesday.
    Mohammed confirmed that the leadership was looking into the Oteh-Hembe clash and would find an “amicable solution to it by Tuesday.”

    “We won’t stop the probe; on Tuesday, this issue will be thrashed out in the plenary; what I cannot say is whether the same people presiding over the probe will continue”, he added.
    In line with the tradition of the House in tackling such matters, its Committee on Ethics and Privileges might be mandated to investigate Oteh’s bribery allegations as a separate matter, while the probe would continue.

    Culled from Punch
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