By Danlami Nmodu (Newsdiaryonline)
A massive probe to uncover how a dormant European company secured a $356 million contract during the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, has begun, Newsdiaryonline has learnt. Available facts show that a Nigerian company, Lingo Nigeria owned by Mr. Linus Ukachukwu, an Nnewi- born Abuja hotelier in partnership with an offshore company Strasky Husty and Partners were awarded a $356m contract for the rehabilitation of (Lot 3) Kuru to Maiduguri section, Nigerian Railway Corporation’s Eastern line of Calabar to Maiduguri.
The contract for the Kuru Maiduguri portion of the railway project is now the subject of a probe by European investigators. The entire scam began in November 2011 when Nigeria’s Federal Executive Council under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan awarded some contracts.
According to documents gleaned by Newsdiaryonline this controversial contract came under the project description ”Rehabilitation of the Railway Track Network-Easter Line Contract 7 (km 803 to km 1443Kuru to Maiduguri) and the contractor was listed as “Messrs Lingo (Nigeria) Limited in association with Strasky Husty and Partners Limited of Czech Republic.” The cost of the contract cost in Naira, Nigeria’s local currency was N23,720,359,033.79. And the contract completion period was stated as 10 months.
What followed afterward was mind boggling, investigators have learnt. The equivalence of contract sum, $356m was eventually paid in full, sources said, after what was described as brief mobilization to the site. Sadly, the job was abandoned afterwards.
And the signs that the project would be abandoned were clear even while the government that awarded was in power. An official account by Abiodun Oladunjoye while he was director of Press and PR, FMoT noted that the then Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar had during an inspection of Lot 3 (Kuru to Maiduguri) visited Government House, Gombe and he hailed President Jonathan for the railway project.
The official account by Oladunjoye observed that “The excitement of Government House was however dampened by what the Transport Minister saw on the field. While inspecting the Bauchi-Gombe-Bajoga (part of the Lot3 handled by Lingo Nigeria Limited )the Minister expressed disappointment at the level of work done and did not hide his feelings by saying ‘this is not acceptable, not good at all’ “
However, according to the report “Project Manager of Lingo, Architect Jerry Nweke, blamed the slow level of work on security challenges which forced some of the expatriate staff to withdraw, coupled with late arrival of some of the imported key components of the project. He however, assured the Minister that the end of May, the job would have been 60% concluded, especially as Government does not owe them any money.” Meaning the contract sum had been fully paid.
It was learnt that it was the huge payment to Strasky Husty that triggered an European probe. And their findings have been astonishing so far. Strasky Husty and Partners is a private company incorporated on 12th September 2002, with registered office address at 9 Station Parade, Uxbridge Road, Ealing Common, London W5 3LD.The company number is 04533738. According to official documents seen by Newsdiaryonline the company’s nature of business include:42110-construction of roads and motorways;42130-construction of bridges and tunnels and most shocking of all, 99999-dormant company. Meaning, a dormant European company got a huge contract in Nigeria. Even more, the company has an authorized share capital allotted and fully paid with aggregate nominal value of one hundred Pounds.
It was further gathered that investigators believe this railway scam to be one of the biggest money laundering cases and outright theft of public funds in Nigeria. The alarm bell rang among European investigators following alleged false tax fillings, money laundering issues and the prospect that the deal was part of money suspected to be proceeds of crime. All these were the triggers that prompted the investigations, highly place sources told Newsdiaryonline.
So far investigations have established that neither Lingo Nigeria nor Strasky Husty has ever constructed a road nor even a culvert. Certainly, investigators have confirmed they have no experience either in railway construction. So the question for Nigerian authorities is: how did these companies secure a multi- million dollar contract approved by the Federal Executive Council?
However investigations which are said to have been extended to the Nigerian side of the deal have established that five companies linked to former First Lady Patience Jonathan, namely: AM PM Global Network Limited, Pansy Oil and and Gas Ltd, Flinchey Top Homes, Aribawa Aruera Foundation and Pagmat Oil and Gas Ltd, which a Federal High Court in Lagos froze their multiple accounts 24th December 2016 were all linked as well to Mr Ukachukwu, the hotelier. Ukachukwu’s Lingo is behind the failed Kuru-Maiduguri railway contract in partnership with Strasky Husty which European investigators are probing assiduously.
Already, there is further evidence that Ukachukwu –linked companies indeed benefited from more sweet-heart deals during the Jonathan administration. Investigations have revealed for instance, that on the 6th of December 2012,he signed and received on behalf of AM –PM Global Network Limited as its Managing, under what has been described as the discredited landswap , the Comprehensive District Development Agreement between the Federal Capital Development Administration and AM-PM Global Network. According to the agreement “all land measuring approximately 2,895,100 sq m(two million eight hundred and ninety five thousand, one hundred square meters) in Burum West “B” district within phase IV of Abuja, Federal Capital City” were given to AM-PM Global.
Ukachukwu, investigators said is known already to be signatory of two accounts at Diamond Bank, the current accounts of AM-PM Global Network limited with account number 0026718889 and 0029499987.He is equally confirmed to have signed and collected the Right of Occupancy (R of O) of Finchley Top Homes from AGIS and runs the accounts of Aribawa Aruera Foundation (account no:1222014221) with Ecobank which had a closing balance of N479,893,431.01 (four hundred and seventy nine million, eight hundred and ninety thousand, four hundred and thirty one naira, zero one kobo).
Newsdiaryonline has been told that money trails have shown that Onyx Hotel Garki, Lingo Estate Abuja, Nzube Estate Abuja ,Multi-billion Naira Eagle Aluminium Company Awka and Abuja are all under investigation for being probably all proceeds of money suspected to be proceeds of alleged crime. The probe is still going on, highly placed sources said.
It has been established that Lingo Nigeria Ltd was registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission in June 1992 as a General Merchant company with initial capital of N100,000.00(One hundred thousand Naira).
There are some worries however. While the European investigators are said to have gone to great lengths in their investigations, at the Nigerian end, sources are disturbed that there is no progress being made by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC and the Department of State Service, DSS. While European investigators are making progress in their probe of Strasky, the Nigerian partner and his properties are believed to be enjoying some protection. So far, no arrests have been made in Nigeria in connection with this scam which has caused a lot of outrage among European investigators.
The hope now is that Nigerian officials are becoming more interesting in the issues bordering p on stolen funds. Already the Minister of Finance has said European investigators will be engaged to help trace stolen funds. Even more, Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo has indicated that efforts will be made to rev up the efforts to recover and sanction those who looted Nigeria’s treasury in the recent past. At a public function recently on financial flows, Osinbajo said banks and others who looted the nation’s treasury must be sanctioned. Prior to that, Osinbajo said in his May 29,2017 Democracy Day speech inter alia:”We believe that the looting of public resources that took place in the past few years has to be accounted for. Funds appropriated to build roads, railway lines, and power plants, and to equip the military, that had been stolen or diverted into private pockets, must be retrieved and the culprits brought to justice.”