Barely a week after federal capital territory (FCT) court discharged him of fraud charges, MARK ITSIBOR writes that fresh indications suggestted that the ordeal of suspended Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) director-general, Mounir Gwarzo may be far from over yet.
When the former director-general of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mounir Gwarzo was discharged and acquitted by a Federal Capital Territory High Court of the charges of fraud filed against him on Tuesday last week, he did not roll out the drums to celebrate what many saw as a milestone victory for him.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) dragged him to court about a year ago over an allegation of misappropriating N115.8 million. Gwarzo was accused of paying himself N115, 834, 643.82 as severance package and car allowance in 2015, while still in the service of SEC. Mr. Gwarzo was charged alongside a Commissioner in SEC, Mr. Zakawanu Garuba on a five-count charge before Justice Hassan Yusuf Baba. Garuba faced allegations of approving N10.9 million for the car allowance.
After months of legal battle, the court however upheld a No Case Submission of the defendants on the grounds that the prosecution (ICPC) failed to prove the elements of the offence, in that the Board of SEC was the highest authority in SEC and had by resolution approved the severance benefit and the car grant.
That was supposed to be a celebrated victory for Gwarzo who had a serious battle with the former Minister of Finance, Mr. Kemi Adeosun who suspended him following an indictment by an executive panel of enquiry into his administration as SEC DG. The minister highlighted some of the misdeeds of Gwarzo to prove that his suspension from office was in order and made damning recommendations to President Buhari to sack the embattled DG and set up an adhoc committee, a recommendation this correspondent recalls was never acted upon.
But his victory may just tarry a while for obvious reasons: ICPC has said it will appeal the judgment. ICPC says it’s not satisfied with the judgment because the board resolution that the trail judge predicated his decision did not decide several benefit but retirement and resignation benefit, an argument some lawyers say has the strength to upturn the subsisting judgment.
Apart from that, there are indications that Mr. Gwarzo actually expressed regret over his roles that enabled Medusa Nigeria Limited and Outbound Investments Limited, companies he and members of his wife’s family owned, to benefit from contract awards at the commission during his tenure.
Although he did not betray this emotion publicly over the months, fresh facts indicated that Gwarzo told the Administrative Panel of Inquiry set up to investigate him over allegations of violations of public service Rules, Financial Regulations and other Extant Rules and Regulations that the letters written by him to GTBank as a director of the company while still holding public office as SEC’s DG was regrettable.
The former DG’s confessions and others findings were contained in a full report of the Administrative Panel of Inquiry into his alleged breach of trust and made available to LEADERSHIP at the weekend. Sources at the Federal Ministry of Finance and SEC told our correspondent that ICPC will incorporate the new findings to file strong expanded appeal charges against Gwarzo. “He knows that we have the facts to prove our point in court better this time. That is why he cannot be happy,” a source said. The petition by ICPC acted upon did not carry the details of the administrative panel report set up by Adeosun that indicted him.
Specifically, the panel was constituted to investigate Gwarzo on allegations that he collected severance package while still in office, served as director in Medusa Limited while in service in violation of PSR 030424 which prohibited public officers from holding office as director in private companies. He was accused of using his position as DG of SEC to award contracts to Medusa wherein he was serving as director, thus resulting in conflict of interest, amongst others.
One of the issues used by the panel to indict him was that Gwarzo awarded SEC’s contracts to companies owned by him and his wife’s family in flagrant disobedience of public service rules while in service.
On his directorship position in Medusa Limited while still serving as DG, the report stated that inquiry made and documents obtained by the panel at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) indicated that Gwarzo was still a director of the company as well as a major shareholder with a shareholding of N1.2m as at the time of the search.
This is even as the report showed that his purported letter of resignation dated 19th December 2012 was not part of CAC’s records as at the date of the inquiry. It was equally discovered from the account opening mandate obtained from GTBank that Gwarzo was at the date of the inquiry signatory to account No 322324264/1/110 maintained by the company with the bank.
The panel was also furnished with a letter dated 24th July, 2015, addressed to the bank signed by Gwarzo as director of the company requesting for a change of account Officer on the basis of a resolution passed and signed by the directors of the company to that effect.
The report also discovered that a letter dated 16th August, 2016 was signed by Gwarzo as a director of the company requesting for the issuance of a credit card in relation to the said account.
The report stated that “when Gwarzo was confronted with the above letters, he admitted to have authored and signed them, but claimed that it was a regrettable action.”
On Outbound Investments Limited which benefitted in contacts awarded by SEC to the tune of N33,736,596, Gwarzo claimed that the company belongs to his wife’s family and that he was only representing his wife on the Board.
Based on the confession, the panel opined that Gwarzo’s status as director in both Medusa Investment Limited and Outbound Investment Limited while still serving as SEC’s DG had raised and established a fundamental issue of conflict of interest against him.
Based on the gravity of the findings by the Panel, it was recommended that Gwarzo be directed to refund the sum of N104,851,154.94 which he allegedly collected as severance package.
In addition, the Panel also recommended his dismissal from the public service for holding the position of a Director in private companies while in service as the DG of SEC in breach of PSR 030424 and Section 6 of the Investment and Securities Act 2007.
The documents also revealed that whereas Mr. Garzo officially resigned from Medusa Investment Limited as its director on 19 December, 2012, with a letter he tendered before the panel of inquiry into his suspension, he retained his position in the company till 2017. In a letter titled: “Board Resolution of Medusa Investments Limited”, signed by one of its directors, Khadija Mustapha, she requested that Gwarzo and herself be issued Naira Mastercards.
“…the following resolutions were duly passed in according with the provisions of the Company’s Articles of Association: THAT new replacement corporate Naira Mastercards be issued on our account for the following directors: (i) Mounir Gwarzo, (ii) Khadijah Gwarzo dated this 16th day of August 2016,” the letter said. At the meeting, that was purportedly held on the 16th of August, 2016 at No 45, 12th Crescent, Kado Housing Estate, Abuja, only Gwarzo and Mustapha were in attendance.
There is evidence (based on the panel report) that Gwarzo was still a shareholder in Outbond Investment Limited. Gwarzo was named among the directors of the company in a letter of notification of change of registered address of the company and addressed to Corporate Affairs Commission on 6th December, 2017. Others are Mustapha Suleiman and Mustapha Kaloma Dahiru.
It remains to be seen whether the prosecuting authorities will be able to produce a watertight case against Gwarzo in the coming days.