• Ringim & • Waziri
It is an interesting case with the stuff of high drama. At the centre of the storm is a man of God, Rev. Eugene Egwuatu Ogu, founder and leader of Abundant Life Ministries, Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Ogu, a former president of the state chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria [PFN], was accused of fleecing his foreign partners, Formtrade-Skoda Export and Globiz International Limited of the Czech Republic, in business deals amounting to over $15million.
He was dragged to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC] by his principal partner and Czech Republic-based Nigerian businessman, Mr. Larry Obasi, on allegations of obtaining money, credit or goods by false pretences, misrepresentations, cheating, fraud, and corrupt enrichment. Ogu was alleged to have committed the offences in connivance with one of his associates, Mr. Frank Anyanwu, through a company, El-Dumz International Limited, where he is the chairman, and the other, a director.
Checks by Daily Sun revealed that the business romance between El-Dumz and Globiz International was initiated and cemented by Anyanwu, presently a staff of the Debt Management Office in the Presidency, an old school mate of Obasi. There were, however, indications that the romance would hit the rocks in no distant time.
Suspicion had dogged the relationship from the onset in 2004, as most of the businesse deals remained largely inconclusive. The parties, however, forged ahead till the burble burst three years later. Ogu and his foreign partners have been at daggers drawn for over two years in an unholy war at the domain of the EFCC, where they launched blistering attacks at one another.
After several failed attempts at an amicable resolution of their differences, Formtrade-Skoda Export and Globiz International, the pastor's foreign business partners, fired the first salvo on June 12, 2007, via a petition to the EFCC.
Specifically, in the letter with reference No.MON/EFCC/VOL.1/2007, Ogu was accused of defrauding his foreign partners $8million, being the worth of goods and machinery shipped to El-Dumz International Limited, his company in Port-Harcourt, which he allegedly failed to make payment. The petitioners alleged that Ogu only made a paltry payment of $54,798.57 between July and December 2004.
It was alleged that Ogu also failed to remit to Globiz International, its share of a 20ft container-load of goods worth $1.5million he sold in Port Harcourt on behalf of the Czech company which shipped the items to him from the US. Under the agency agreement, the items comprising marine engineering tolls and accessories, would be shipped to Ogu's company, El-dumz, which would bear the cost of freight and clearing charges as well as warehousing. The profit to accrue from the sale of the goods would be shared on a formula of 30 per cent to El-Dumz and 70 per cent to Globiz International. But the petitioners claim that till date, Ogu has not paid for the goods he had since sold.
The petitioners' lawyers claimed: 'Our clients have a consultancy/agency agreement between them in the Czech Republic wherein they agreed to do contracts for the Federal Ministry of Education and the NBTE, Kaduna, with respect to the supply and installation of laboratories and equipment for federal polytechnics and technical schools across the Federation of Nigeria. Our clients subsequently introduced and recommended El-Dumz Limited to the Federal Ministry of Education and the NBTE as their agent/representative in Nigeria for the purpose of concluding negotiations on their behalf and signing necessary documents towards the procurement and execution of the contracts.
'Furthermore, our clients supplied all necessary documents and facilities for the procurement and progress of these contracts. Surprisingly, after the receipt of these facilitating documents, El-Dumz International Limited, Ogu and Anyanwu, thereafter ceased communications with our clients and refused, failed and/or neglected to furnish any information whatsoever to our clients in respect of the contracts. Meanwhile, our clients have confirmed that El-Dumz Limited has been awarded, executed, and been duly paid for contracts in excess of N300million by the FME/NBTE on the basis of El-Dumz International Limited being agent/representatives of our clients. Surprisingly, El-Dumz, Ogu, and Anyanwu, have continued to deny these facts and truths.'
Obasi also accused Ogu of an attempt to extort $50million from his company as signature bonus for the take-over of a purported oil well which the chairman of El-Dumz claimed to have secured. Obasi alleged that Ogu had offered Globiz two million barrels of Bonny Light crude oil in 2006 which turned out to be a bogus deal upon verification from the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation [NNPC] London office. The petitioners therefore, urged the EFCC to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations with a view to bringing Ogu and his accomplice to book.
TWIST AT EFCC
The petitioners' hope of a prompt action by the EFCC was dashed almost three months after lodging complaints. The anti-graft agency dismissed the issues raised as civil: 'We have carefully reviewed your petition and observed that the matter is civil in nature. We therefore, advice you to take civil action in court to address the situation or report to the police who are competent to handle the matter.' The letter, with reference number EFCC/EC/GC/032/100, was signed by Musa Bello Mustapha, on behalf of the commission's chairman.
Not deterred, the complainants fired fresh petitions to the House of Representatives Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, as well as the office of the National Security Adviser. The House committee wrote to the chairman of the anti-graft agency:
'I call on the attention of the commission [EFCC] to please expedite action on this rather very serious matter whose implication could have serious ramification snowballing into adversely affecting Nigeria 's image abroad if not well handled. Apparently, the petitioners are not in any way satisfied with the manner the case is being handled and are infuriated at what they call unnecessary delays, hence the need for the committee to urge you to dispassionately look into the case without further delays, please.'
The EFCC re-assigned the case to another team for investigation at its Abuja office. Consequently, three suspects, including Ogu, Anyanwu and a lady said to be Ogu's sales girl were reportedly quizzed in connection with the case and eventually released on bail.
However, over one year after investigation into the case was allegedly concluded and the file referred to the legal department of the commission for necessary action, mum appeared to have been the word from the EFCC.
Determined to pursue the case to an end, Ogu's foreign partners contracted the services of another legal firm, which in a letter of May 7, 2010, urged the EFCC to prosecute the suspects as a matter of urgency. EFCC spokesman, Mr. Femi Babafemi, however, gave assurance that there was no cause for alarm as the matter was still under investigation: He told Daily Sun: 'Yes, the case is still with us and under investigation.' A source in the EFCC, however, said: 'We have since concluded our job and the case file sent to the legal department. The legal people recommended that the pastor and his associates have a case to answer with regards to some aspects of the petition against them. So, they advised that the case file be sent to Port Harcourt for prosecution. That was the last I knew about the case.'
EL-DUMZ DIRECTOR REACTS
Contacted on telephone, Anyanwu, a director of El-Dumz International Limited who is also one of the suspects in the case, offered to physically come over to THE SUN Abuja office, where for over two hours, he stated his role and involvement of Ogu, his associate:
'I knew Larry since 1978, we are childhood friends. Even if we have problems today, I cannot deny him even though he denies me. We lost contact after secondary school and reconnected in 2002. When we met, he told me he had been in Czech Republic, and because I was into business, I started visiting him in Czech Republic.
'He was assisting me in buying things there. I did not know that for each of the things he was buying for me, he was adding high profit for himself. Then, I was doing business with the name, El-Dumz Enterprises, which later became El-Dumz International Limited. While I was doing the business with Larry, he had asked me to go and buy the items from a particular shop in Czech Republic.
'Secretly, he had told the people to add 50 per cent on the items they were selling for me as his commission. He had sent me an email quoting the prices. But there was a time I went to Dubai and saw those items in a shop. When I asked of the price, it was far cheaper than what Larry had been telling me. I was disappointed, because I trusted him.'
'I told him later there was no need quarrelling over this little trading. That I know somebody who, though, does not have money, but he knows people and is well connected. That is this Rev. Eugene Ogu. I came back from Czech Republic and told Ogu. They had this interlocking pavement stone moulding machine which was to be sold for six million Czech crones. It was supposed to be a partnership between Globiz and us. The owners of the machine [Almabeton], were supposed to come with it to Nigeria and install it. We were to make an initial payment of three million Czech crones. Then, when the machine starts working, the balance of three million crones would be paid. So, we agreed.
'Later, Larry wrote to us, trying to add another 500,000 crones, but Ogu disagreed and we stood by the six million crones. When we came back to Nigeria after inspecting the machine at Czech Republic, Ogu started transferring money to Larry. He transferred a total of $70,000, but because he couldn't have evidence of the amount he transferred from the US, Larry capitalized on it to say it was only $54,798.57 that Ogu paid. But these machines that Larry claimed to have been sent, none came to Nigeria. His claim was that Ogu defaulted by delaying the payments, and must therefore, bear the cost as penalty for breaching the contract agreement.
He claimed to have transferred the $54,798.57 paid by Ogu to Almabeton accounts, but says he has no evidence of the bank transfers.'
$1.5MILLION 20FT CONTAINER ISSUE
'These are marine tools and accessories that he is claiming. There was this particular day he called Ogu directly. He said there is a company that is closing shop in Holland and that they wanted to sell all the stock available such as electrical tools, drilling equipment, and so on. Ogu said he would want to go to Holland and see the items. He said we should go together, but I said he should go alone. So, he went alone. His intention was to use his share of the profit that would accrue from that business to complete the payment for the interlocking stone machine.
'After inspecting the items valued by Larry at $1.5million, the agreement was that the items would be shipped to Nigeria, while Ogu would bear the cost for freight, clearing and warehousing. They were to share the profit after sales on an agreed percentage. After the agreement, Ogu sent 5,450 Euros to Larry, which he acknowledged. The machines actually came to Ogu, but the quantity was far, far less than what Ogu initially saw at Holland. Ogu said he spent about N2million for the clearing of the container.
The day the container came out of the Onne Port in Port Harcourt, Ogu followed it to a warehouse for the storage. Ogu almost fainted because when the container was opened, the content was not more than half of it. He screamed and called Larry on phone, but Larry's excuse was that he did not send all the items because of the weight allowed by the shipping companies. He said he had sold some of the items to other partners.
'Larry had sent a complete list of the items inspected by Ogu in Holland. He also took stock of all that was sent to him. Thereafter, the marketing lady working with Ogu called went to make a market survey, and the total value she arrived at was a little short of N6million. So Ogu and I called Larry and told him that the items he valued at $1.5million is just worth N6million. Larry called two persons one of whom is his cousin based in Port Harcourt, and the other from Umuahia, to help him in the sales. The person who tried was his cousin who brought one of his friends who is a dealer on those items. The dealer said in the presence of Larry's cousin that the items are not marketable. Finally, he said he was going to pay N2.4million for all the items.
'These goods stayed for almost six months unsold, and there was a day Larry came over to Nigeria and visited the warehouse in Port Harcourt . At that point, Larry, Ogu, I and the sales girl were frustrated. At a point, even the man that offered to pay N2.4million said he was no longer interested when we later approached him to come and pay. Even when we told Larry that the marketing survey for the items was N6million, he did not say we should not sell at that price. He did not say he was going to take back his goods and refund Ogu. Ogu was paying for the warehouse, the sales girl and two mobile policemen for security, because there was a case of burglary in the place. At a point, Ogu ordered the sales girl that whatever is offered by anybody for the items, she should sell them off. The lady eventually sold the goods for N820,000. When Larry started making trouble, Ogu told him that he should be talking of losses he (Ogu) incurred, because he paid for freight, clearing, warehousing, salaries, and other expenses.'
ALLEGED $7MILLION FORMTRADE-SKODA EXPORT CONTRACT SCAM
'El-Dumz International Limited is a registered Nigerian business outfit. When Ogu and I visited Larry in Czech Republic for the first time, Larry hinted Ogu that there was an outstanding amount of money, about $40million, which the Federal Government of Nigeria was owing a Czech company -Skoda Export. He requested for assistance in getting the money since Ogu knows some people in government. The Skoda Export at that time had a representative in Nigeria called Mr. Maya, who is a Czech Republic national. The guy came here and started doing his own business, so they later disengaged him. Ogu told them that he would try his best to see what he could do about getting the money.
'At that time, Adolphus Wabara was the Senate President and Professor Osuji was the Minister of Education. Ogu made efforts to use his contact with these people to see if this money could come out for Skoda Export company, but it wasn't possible. In the course of his going to the Ministry of Education, he enquired how he could benefit from one job or another. I don't know the top people he knew that introduced him to the then Chairman, Senate Committee on Education. Ogu and Azeez became close. In the course of the relationship, Ogu got some jobs and called Larry. He told him there were equipment involved, and that he should call his partners in the Czech Republic to supply them. He sent him a list of the items El-Dumz was supposed to supply.
'They said Ogu was supposed to pay for the total cost of the items needed before they would send them to him. They further asked for money for the shipment. Ogu was shocked, because he thought the idea was that as partners, he would get the job while they would execute by supplying the items needed. But the Czech people opted out, they said without money, they were not interested in the deal. When he was disappointed, he felt having spent a lot of money trying to get the job, he started making enquiry on indigenous companies that had been supplying such equipment to schools. He got some persons and started scouting for money.
He obtained N50million from the bank to execute the job. He used the Certificate of Occupancy of his big house and church in Port Harcourt as collateral for the loan. I do not know if he has completely paid back the loan. Because of this case, the EFCC summoned the director of NBTE, Kaduna, to make a statement. The director said the contract was given to El-Dumz International and not Skoda Export, that it was not diverted by El-Dumz.
ALLEGED OIL SCAM
'I do not know much on this issue. Ogu should be able to explain what happened. I know that they were discussing some oil matters with Larry. As I speak with you, I am no longer part of El-Dumz, but Ogu is still my pastor and I have to say the truth.'
While the interview with Anyanwu was still in progress, Ogu put a call across to him, and eventually had a brief chat with Daily Sun. While admitting having business transactions with Mr. Larry Obasi, his now estranged foreign partner in the Czech Republic, Ogu denied the alleged financial misdeeds: 'I don't deal on oil; I am sure he [Obasi] had fabricated something.' Ogu introduced an amazing dimension, when he said his conversation with Daily Sun should not be taken for an official reaction to the issues raised.
However, Globiz director, Larry Obasi said Ogu and his associate are only peddling a bundle of lies. He is eagerly waiting for the day the EFCC would arraign them in court to tender an avalanche of alleged incriminating documents to prove his case against them. Some of the documents he made available to Daily Sun included a Proof of Product/Cargo Information for Shell Allocation of two million barrels of crude oil forwarded to him by El-Dumz International Limited in 2006. It has the signature of Apostle Eugene Ogu. There is also an email on the same subject sent through the mailing address of Abundant Life Evangel Mission [[email protected]ahoo.com], which reads: 'Hello Larry, attached are oil products for your verification. Please get back to me when you are through. Pastor Ogu.'
Besides agency agreements between El-Dumz and Globiz International of Czech Republic who are partners to Formtrade-Skoda Export, there are also documents relating to contracts awarded to El-Dumz by the National Board for Technical Education [NBTE]. The letters of award made reference to repair/installation of equipment supplied by Formtrade-Skoda Export of Czech Republic. One of the NBTE contract award letters to El-Dumz dated October 12, 2006, with reference number C/TEB.58/VOL.11/407 reads: 'I am pleased to inform you that approval has been granted for the award of contract for repair/installation of equipment supplied by FORMTRADE-SKODA EXPORT of CZECH REPUBLIC for The Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti to your company on the following terms…'