Comptroller General of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Col. Hammed Ibrahim Ali on Thursday told the House of Representatives that it was doing preliminary investigations into the ownership of the commercial aircraft hired to convey the $8.067 million out of the country.
Col. Ali told the House Committee on Finance that his men acted on a tip off and intercepted a vehicle belonging to the Nigeria Aviation Handling Company that was allowed into the tarmac of the Murtala Mohammed Airport through a restricted gate by officials of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
He said that the money in one hundred dollars bill were neatly packed in different envelops with names written on each envelope, adding that the service is still trying to determine whether the names were real or fake.
He said even though the Custom service has no legal power to investigate financial transactions, it was conducting its preliminary investigations and will soon hand over the case to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which had the mandate to carry out such investigations.
He said the driver of the NAHCO van conveying the money was presently in custody of the service pending when he will be handed to the appropriate authority.
The House Committee on Finance is investigating the under-remittance of operating surplus to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) of the federation by some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
Col. Ali said the Customs suspect that was a case of money laundering, adding that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will be in a better position to tell Nigerians the owners of the money and what the money was meant for
Giving a vivid insight into the discovering, Ali said: “this is an incident which happened at the Murtala Muhammad International Airport, our men had information that some consignment of money was to be moved and fortunately they put their own men on alert.
“Behold they had a vehicle, NAHCO vehicle driven on the 16th of January driven to the tarmac. Then there were three commercial aircrafts on the ground. Up till now we are still in the process of investigation to know which of these aircrafts was supposed to be used to load the money.
“But the vehicle was intercepted on the tarmac and the Customs personnel accosted the driver and asked him why the vehicle was there.
“The FAAN for whatever reason opened the gate which is restricted to the vehicle and that vehicle found its way into the tarmac. Then it was accosted by our own officers and they insisted they want to search the vehicle and there they found 8 wraps of consignments and they became suspicious. And they insisted they want to know the origin of the wraps and where they are going.
“The driver kept mute so he was the first suspect arrested. The Customs personnel arrested him then took the consignment and took it back to the Controller’s office.
“There the consignment was first and foremost put under detention and put in the sequence, then a seizure notice was given and that gave us the right under the law to now open the parcels and see what the contents are.
“And that was done in front of all other agencies that work at the airport under a camera. Each of those parcels was opened. There are names written on some of those bundles of money but up to this moment we don’t know whether fictitious or those names are real names of the people.
“And then the money was counted. They are all in $100 bails, they are all counted and at the end of the day we found $8,067,612. The only one parcel in small envelope was containing a few ones that are one hundred and seven and few $12 were and added to it. That was properly documented and then a seizure notice was issued. With that seizure, the Authority will now take custody of it.
“It is based on that that we now do the Press Conference to show Nigerians what is happening in our airport. After that what we are doing, we are doing a preliminary investigation by right it is not our right to do investigation financial crimes at the airport.
“It is EFCC, so we are only going to do the preliminary investigation, put the suspect and the amount together and hand it over to EFCC for an in-depth investigation. It is our hope that at the end of the EFCC will reveal who are the owners of the fund, where is it supposed to go, what is it meant for. Those ones are not revealed at this moment. So I hope EFCC will reveal that and then the public will get to know what the funds are meant for, what is the nature of the fund and what are they supposed to do with it.
“For us, we are suspecting it is money laundering and we are going to hand over to the EFCC,” he assured the Committee.”
While commending the Customs for the successes so far achieved, Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, Rep. James Faleke said: “in a period when United States is giving us conditions under which the so called Abacha loot must to be returned to Nigeria, we also find ourselves, one of us in Nigeria also trying to loot dollars out of our own country. It was quite unfortunate.
“But we commend you and the agency for the service for being vigilant and proactive and all we can say is to urge Nigerians to cooperate with Customs and all other law enforcement agencies to assist and give information as to what is happening that is not good. You see something, you say something”.
He however told the Customs service that from the records obtained from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, they were indebted to the Nigerian government to the tune of N88, 000, adding that they should reconcile their books with the AGF so that their records are left clean.