EL-RUFAI QUIZZED

By NBF NEWS
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Returnee former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir el-Rufai yesterday surrendered himself to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and was the guest of the Commission for about nine hours.

Interestingly, contrary to expectations, Mallam el-Rufai was given a royal treatment by the commission as the former minister intermittently brisked in and out of the venue of his interrogation beaming with smiles and waiving to anxious journalists some of whom had besieged the Commission's office as early as 7:00am.

EFCC operatives effectively secured him from being interviewed.

El-Rufai came out of the office at least three times while his questioning lasted, to pray at 2:00pm, 4:00pm and finally at 6:45pm. On each occasion he exuded confidence, waving to the swarms of journalists around the gate of the EFCC. At a about 3:10pm, lunch was brought for the ex-minister.

El-Rufai spotting a white caftan and red cap to match surfaced at the Wuse 11, head office at 10:00am. He was allowed into the EFCC office in company of his aides and one of his wives, Aisha to give moral support. He was interrogated by operatives of the anti-graft agency till 7:13p.m. when he left the EFCC premises in a black Mercedes Benz SUV with Kaduna State registered number plate, BB 417 MKA.

The former minister who had been declared wanted by the commission since December 21, 2008, is to be arraigned in court on an eight-count charge bordering on abuse of office and misappropriation of about N32 billion from the proceeds of the sales of Federal Government houses, supervised by him as the Minister of the FCT.

EFCC confirmed the he was granted administrative bail and would arraigned in court in Abuja on Thursday.

When Mallam el-Rufai was to leave the EFCC premises, the commission's security men effectively guided him and checkmated prying journalists who expected to speak to him given his friendly disposition any time he came out of the venue of his interrogation while his stay lasted.

Indeed, the EFCC operatives gave him an exceptional treatment as they ordered his driver to drive into the premises to pick el-Rufai as descended the staircase while the gate was shut against newsmen.

Sensing the tactics of the EFCC men, newsmen also quickly formed a wall outside the gate to force el-Rufai to stop and say something. However they got a raw deal, as the EFCC men instructed the driver to run over any obstacle. Some of the journalists were hit by the car as el-Rufai's driver forced his way through the wall and sped off.

His lawyer, Abdulakeem Mustapha who was with him had to apologize to newsmen who took him on over the treatment meted out to them despite that the former minister was waving to them.

According to him, it was el-Rufai's driver initiative to drive in the dangerous manner because he was intimidated by the crowd he saw.

He disclosed that his client would appear in court on Thursday in line with his promise that he was back in the country to clear his name of all allegations leveled against him by the commission. 'He cooperated with the EFCC and both parties were satisfied with the answers he gave them. He has been granted administrative bail and we will meet in court on Thursday.'

A statement issued by the former minister later said he had fulfilled his pledge by visiting the EFCC office.

According to the statement, while at the EFCC, the operatives questioned him on matters pertaining to land acquisition and the N32 billion allegedly misappropriated.

El Rufai, the statement said, reminded his interrogators that the land matter was subjudice as it is the substance of the Federal Government's case against him, a matter in which hearing continues before Justice Bello on Thursday, May 6, 2010.

He also said to have reminded the EFCC that he had sued the agency, the Federal Government and other parties over the N32 billion issue.

According to the statement, the formal interview ended around 1.30 pm, after which El Rufai's former chief of staff fulfilled all the bail conditions. EFCC was still holding him as at 6.45 pm, pending final approval of the bail by the EFCC chairman, Mrs Farida Waziri.

The statement said, El Rufai looked forward to a robust defence of the spurious charges pending in a court.

EFCC spokesman, Femi Babafemi, however, denied reports that some of the nine charges against el-Rufai had been dropped and reduced to one with the charge now reading N1.6 billion. He stated that the EFCC was still pressing on with the nine-count charge of abuse of office to the tune of N32 billion.

The commission's spokesman stated that the agency investigated the report of the Senate Committee, which indicted the former minister and that no part of the charged had been dropped.

Feelers that the former minister would be free of EFCC harassment usually accorded someone wanted but refusing to show up emerged when el-Rufai announced that he was arriving the country last Saturday and actually did without any security operatives picking him up.

When all efforts by the EFCC to make him turn himself up failed in 2008 when President Umaru Yar'Adua was in charge, he was declared wanted and at a point the commission was contemplating seeking the help of Interpol to get him repatriated to Nigeria. However, the reception given him yesterday was seen by observers as a contradiction.