This Day (Lagos)

30 January 2013

Nigeria: EFCC Re-Arrests Pension Fund Fraudster

Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have re-arrested convicted former Director of Pension in the Police Affairs Ministry, Mr. John Yakubu Yusufu, on fraud-related matters.

He is to be arraigned today at a Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, on a fresh charge for committing fraud to the tune of N300 million.

The embattled Yusufu, who was jailed for two years on Monday by an Abuja High Court judge, Justice Abubakar Talba, for his role in the N38 billion police pension fund fraud, was picked up by the anti-graft agency the same day upon his arrival at his residence.

Expectedly, the light sentence given him, which many considered extremely lenient, drew outrage yesterday from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC), Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) and a human rights group, Access to Justice (AJ).

Sources said yesterday that the joy of the family of the convicted after he was given the option of a N250,000 fine by Justice Talba was short-lived, as EFCC operatives whisked him away and detained him at the commission's headquarters in Abuja.

By yesterday, the EFCC legal team confirmed at the Federal High Court premises that the convict was re-arrested on Monday in connection with another fraud.

It was gathered that a four-count criminal charge had already been filed against him, preparatory to his arraignment in court today.

In the fresh four-count criminal charge, the convict was accused of false declaration of assets, contrary to Section 27(3) of the EFCC Act, 2004.

He was also accused of keeping a N250 million deposit for a private company, SY-A Global Services Ltd, floated in the name of his family members as directors and refused to disclose the asset in his asset declaration form.

The money was alleged to have been fixed in an account with Zenith Bank Plc.

In the new criminal charge signed by the EFCC Director of Legal Services, Mr. Chile Okoroma, the former pension director was also accused of fixing another N10 million on behalf of his private company bank account at First Bank of Nigeria Plc, where he was the sole signatory to the account.

The convict was also alleged to have fixed another N29 million in another bank account and failed to disclose his interest in his asset declaration form.

EFCC lead lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacob (SAN), confirmed that necessary steps had been taken and that the accused person would be arraigned today.

The former pension director had on Monday forfeited 32 different properties to the Federal Government in addition to about N400 million cash in a bank account traced to him.

His conviction by Justice Talba followed his admission of guilt to the criminal charges brought against him under Section 309 of the Penal Code.

However, the NLC was not impressed by the light sentence given Yusufu, which it described as "scandalous".

The TUC also described the judgment as one of the disgraceful actions of the judiciary, which "is killing this country".

The NLC said it was particularly startled that the convict was given the option of a N250,000 fine, noting that the judgment would encourage Nigerians to opt for jungle justice if such high profile thieves are convicted with sentences not punitive enough.

In a statement yesterday by the Acting President of the NLC, Comrade Mohammed Kiri, labour urged the EFCC to immediately file an appeal and seek a retrial, while it also called on the National Judicial Commission (NJC) to investigate Justice Talba.

Strongly criticising the leniency plea, which the court gave, NLC said the crime, which has left thousands of families in hunger, penury and caused death in some cases, does not deserve any leniency.

"The Nigerian judiciary is (being) compromised and obviously encouraging corruption in a country that has lost most of her earnings to a few individuals who have used their public offices to corruptly enrich themselves.

"This judgment is not in the public interest and cannot be acceptable to Nigerians who are continuously worried about their future in retirement," it said.

The judgment, it added, would subject Nigeria to international ridicule just as it appealed to the National Assembly to review the nation's judicial system to make it more patriotic.

Similarly, President General of TUC, Comrade Peter Esele, warned that if the judiciary, which is seen as the last hope of the common man cannot deliver justice, it would encourage people to take laws into their own hands.

An obviously infuriated Esele told THISDAY in a telephone conversation that the judgment was an insult to Nigerians.

"The judiciary is killing this country, but this is the height of it and the biggest insult to us. What the judiciary has done is to tell us that it is okay to loot.

"This man stole N23 billion, he had agreed to forfeit property worth N315 million and pay N250,000 fine. It means he has made a profit of over N19 billion," he said.

He added that several pensioners, who have had to suffer for the non-payment of their pensions, had died from the penury brought upon them by Yusuf and his cohorts.

"The judge must not forget that the blood of those who have died due to pension fraud would be on his head," Esele added.

The CNPP also deplored the sentence handed down to Yusufu and dismissed the confiscation of assets of less than N1 billion and a fine of N250,000 imposed on him "as less than a slap on the wrist for the amount he admitted to stealing from helpless police pensioners".

A statement by the CNPP's Secretary General, Chief Willy Ezugwu, urged the NJC to investigate Justice Talba to ensure that the image of the judiciary is not dragged into disrepute.

It also urged the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to probe the judge's finances as well as those of the prosecutor and EFCC officials that handled the case.

According to the statement, "No amount of plea for leniency or plea bargaining should earn any self-confessed thief such pampering that makes mockery of Nigerians who worked hard daily.

"It is simply insane that a man who admitted to stealing N23 billion but only had assets of less than N1 billion confiscated and a paltry N250,000 fine, which he easily paid off on the spot.

"The essence of sentencing is to punish offenders and at the same time deter would be offenders.

"This ruling however has no element of deterrence since the convict walked away with what amounted to over N20 billion profit because of this warped ruling."

In its reaction, Access to Justice condemned the judgment and described it as "as unfair, a blatant travesty and parody of justice".

In a statement by its Executive Director, Mr. Joseph Otteh, yesterday, the group said given the sentence the defendant received, the court literarily gave him a warm handshake and sent a strong message that the judiciary will always be weak and soft in fighting corruption.

"The court helped Nigerians see that the judiciary will also side with looters of the commonwealth than with victims of corruption.

"The excuse given by the court that the law under which Yakubu Yusufu was charged carried only a two-year sentence is clearly not a basis for rationalising the sentence of the court.

"Even conceding the point, the court had considerable margins to make the punishment fairer, more meaningful and less obnoxious," it stated.

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