Osinbajo’s firm linked to company fingered in alleged N100bn Alpha Beta scam

 

A company in which Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo has a stake, Simmons Coopers Partners, has been linked to another firm, Ocean Trust Limited, which was fingered in an alleged N100 billion scam involving Alpha Beta Consulting Limited and Alpha Beta LP.

Ocean Trust Limited, which was accused of being a conduit for diversion and laundering of funds by Alpha Beta, listed Simmons Coopers as its company secretary, documents exclusively obtained from the Corporate Affairs Commission by Saturday PUNCH showed.

Simmons Coopers was listed as a company in which Prof Yemi Osinbajo (now Vice-President) had a stake in his asset declaration form in 2015, according to the statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.

In a petition submitted to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in  July 2018, Dapo Apara, the erstwhile managing director of Alpha Beta, had alleged that Alpha Beta owed the Federal Government N100bn in unpaid taxes spanning over 10 years, adding that the firm usually laundered funds through another firm, Ocean Trust Limited.

He alleged that the firm was being protected by powerful politicians.

The petition by Apara’s lawyer, Adetunji Adegboyega, read in part, “Over the years, the company (Alpha Beta) has been protected and shielded by some powerful politicians and people in the society which made them to always boast of being untouchable.

“But our client, feeling the need not to keep quiet again and strengthened by his belief in the fact that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari is keen on fighting corruption which has been the bane of our country, is of the firm view that it is time to expose and open the can of worms called Alpha Beta Consulting.

“Our client is of the firm belief that it is time for the commission to step in and conduct a holistic investigation into the activities of Alpha Beta Consulting Limited and Alpha Beta LLP with a view to uncovering the massive corruption, money laundering, tax evasion, etc., going on in the company.

“Kindly note that one of the companies being used to perpetrate money laundering by the company is still another company named Ocean Trust Limited.”

Osinbajo’s reaction

When contacted on the relationship between Osinbajo’s firm, Simmons Coopers and Ocean Trust, the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media, Mr Laolu Akande, said he would not comment on the matter unless Saturday PUNCH showed him the document indicating Simmons Coopers was Ocean Trust’s company secretary.

But, a source close to Osinbajo told Saturday PUNCH that “the Vice President has since 2014 left the firm. There is no interest there anymore.”

The source added, “And I think you should talk to the EFCC about its own decisions. It does not make sense that the EFCC will say it is not prosecuting or, as you say, investigating or probing (the allegations) because of what you claimed.”

However, Osinbajo in 2015 listed Simmons Coopers as one of his companies in his asset declaration form.

Where is Ocean Trust?

Saturday PUNCH, which investigated Ocean Trust Limited for three months, conducted a search at the Corporate Affairs Commission.

It was noted during a CAC search that the firm was registered with number 419706 on January 5, 2011, and is located at 684, Idowu Taylor Street, Victoria Island, Lagos and had Gboyega Iyiola and Kunle Akinniyi as shareholders at the inception both of whom relinquished their shares two days later on January 7, 2011.

One of documents exclusively obtained from the Corporate Affairs Commission

Incidentally, the property where Ocean Trust Limited is located shares the same address with the office of former Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos State known as ‘Freedom House’.

All efforts to contact Ocean Trust Limited proved futile as investigations by Saturday PUNCH showed that the company might no longer be in operation.

Also, attempts to speak with its management turned out to be a wild goose chase.

When one of our correspondents visited the company’s address at the Freedom House, Plot 684, Idowu Taylor Street, a fair-complexioned lady, who said she was an employee of Ocean Trust Limited, told Saturday PUNCH that the company was no longer located there.

When asked if it was true that the firm was being used to launder funds for Alpha Beta, the lady, who refused to identify herself, asked our correspondent to send an email which she would forward to her boss.

Over three weeks after one of our correspondents sent her an email, a response was still being awaited as of the time of filing this report on Friday.

A visit to Ocean Trust’s second listed address at 42 Norman Williams Avenue, Ikoyi, Lagos yielded no positive result as the compound looked deserted having been overtaken by weeds.

Saturday PUNCH met with a lady, who simply gave her name as Blessing, and confirmed that the place was being used by Ocean Trust. She, however, said she could not speak on any issue as the place was only a correspondence office.

After a brief chat, she gave one of our reporters a phone number that she claimed belonged to an accountant with Ocean Trust.

When Saturday PUNCH called the number, a man who picked the phone said he was not a staff member of the company.

After one of our correspondents told Blessing that the ‘accountant’ denied working for Ocean Trust, she referred him to the head office on 9 Grace Anjous Street, Lekki Phase I to make an enquiry.

When one of our correspondents got to the address, a male receptionist initially confirmed that the office belonged to Ocean Trust.

However, after an introduction as a journalist, he retracted his statement and said the premises belonged to Paragon Holdings and only delivered correspondences to Ocean Trust.

He said, “Ocean Trust is not one of our partners; they used to use here to receive correspondences, but they no longer come here.

“They are not our partners again. Here, we only deal with their files, both physical and electronic.”

While questioning the receptionist on why he had earlier admitted that the place belonged to Ocean Trust, another man emerged from one of the offices in the building and said Ocean Trust was no longer in existence.

He said, “To the best of my knowledge, Ocean Trust is not functioning. We only receive correspondences for them, but in terms of business, they stopped existing before the end of the (former Lagos State Governor Babatunde) Fashola’s administration. We don’t even know who they are. They’ve folded up since.”

EFCC yet to take action

One year after Apara’s petition, the EFCC has yet to take any action on the matter.

The EFCC spokesman, Tony Orilade, had said in February that the petitioner should send a reminder as the petition could not be traced.

In a recent chat with Saturday PUNCH on why the commission had refused to respond to media inquiries for over a month, the EFCC spokesman asked one of our correspondents to give him more time to react.

Efforts made thereafter to get a response from the EFCC did not yield result.

As of Friday when this report was being filed, Orilade had yet to respond.

Apara, who accused the firm of tax evasion to the tune of N100bn, also told Saturday PUNCH that the EFCC had yet to contact him a year after the petition had been submitted.

“I have still not been contacted by the EFCC,” he said in response to an inquiry.

Alpha Beta’s controversies

Alpha Beta Consulting was awarded a contract by the Tinubu-led government after a recommendation by a committee comprising the then attorney-general of Lagos State, Prof Osinbajo (now the Vice-President); Mr Wale Edun, the then commissioner for finance; and a former commissioner for economic planning and budget, Yemi Cardoso.

The firm was subsequently given exclusive rights to collect taxes on behalf of Lagos State and was believed to receive about 10 per cent commission from the revenue it collected for the state.

However, pro-transparency groups and opposition politicians have constantly alleged that Tinubu owns Alpha Beta.

In 2012, a Lagos-based medical doctor, Dominic Adegbola, filed a Freedom of Information request to state authorities, seeking detailed information on all Alpha Beta contracts with Lagos State since 1999.

But the state’s Attorney-General then, Ade Ipaye, (now Osinbajo’s chief of staff), rejected the request, insisting that the FoI was a federal law that did not apply to the states.

However, in November 2017, a state judge ruled that the FoI was applicable to Lagos State. The judge said the law was duly enacted by the National Assembly and did not require domestication to take effect in states.

When one of our correspondents visited the office of Alpha Beta at the Lagos Water Corporation Building, Ijora Causeway, Lagos, the company’s Head of Corporate Support Services and General Counsel, Mr Omogbemi Adelagun, said the matter was already in court and, therefore, he could not comment on the issue.

“If the matter had not been taken to court, we would have been able to react to it. So, right now, we cannot say anything until the court rules on the case,” he said.

Alpha Beta LLP had, however, said in an advertorial in response to the allegations levelled against it by its former MD that the accusations were illogical and false.

The advertorial read in part, “Alpha Beta has been visibly engaged by the Lagos State Government since 2002 as a forensic, internal control and enhancement adviser. In working with the state, Alpha Beta helped develop the state’s centralised transaction platforms, the precursor to the present-day Treasury Single Account.”

The firm said at the time it entered into the contract with Lagos State, the state was taking in the sum of N600m in internally generated revenue per month but things had since changed for the better.

Former MD heads to court

Meanwhile, the Alpha Beta’s former managing director, Apara, has approached a Federal High Court, Abuja, “directing an investigation to be made by the Corporate Affairs Commission into the conduct of Alpha Beta Consulting Limited.”

Apara, who said he had been and remained a director of the firm since its incorporation, with control of 30 per cent of its shares value, also alleged that the financial records of the company filed with the CAC and tax authorities did not reflect the actual profits of the company or of its directors.

He alleged among others in the suit that he and shareholders of the company were being owed their remunerations.

Also praying for the takeover of the management of the company by an appointee of the court, the suit urged the court “to appoint a receiver or a receiver manager of the property of Alpha Beta Consulting Limited.”

The suit, couched as a “petition” and brought under the Companies Proceedings Rules and Order 5 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2009, was filed on November 9, 2018 and marked FHC/ABJ/PET/2018.

When contacted on the telephone, a former Senior Partner at Simmons Coopers, Babatunde Irukera, said he had never heard of Ocean Trust Limited and wondered how Simmons Coopers could have served as its company secretary.

Irukera, who is now the Executive Secretary, Consumer Protection Council and had served as managing partner at Simmons Coopers during the time in question, directed our correspondent to another partner, Victoria Alonge.

Alonge told Saturday PUNCH that she had never heard of Ocean Trust Limited and asked Saturday PUNCH for more time.

She said Simmons Coopers had checked all its records and had not found Ocean Trust in its books, adding that it had no record with the CAC.

When one of our correspondents dictated the contents of the document linking Simmons Coopers with Ocean Trust, Alonge expressed shock and asked that the document be sent to her.

She, however, maintained that Vice-President Osinbajo was a man of honour and honesty and would never hinder the EFCC from doing its job.

Alonge said, “Simmons Coopers has never had any dealings with Ocean Trust. We are also doing our own investigations. We checked our Abuja records and Ocean Trust is not stated there. This is new to us and it cannot be insinuated that Prof Osinbajo is stopping the EFCC from doing its job.

“For us, there is nothing to hide. As a partner, I should be in a position to know. We are still checking our records and we haven’t found anything.”

Credit: Saturday PUNCH