By Sam Akpe Deputy Editor, Abuja
Austin Ometuruwa, former Africa Finance Corporation (AFC) Managing Director, was last week arrested by the police in London over lodgement in his bank account in excess of one million British pounds.
The amount was impounded during bank transfer.
British police have petitioned Abuja to investigate the source of the money so they could decide on the next line of action.
Ometuruwa informed the police that the amount is his severance package for being relieved of his appointment by the AFC, a claim that could not be confirmed immediately.
However, the police said they are in possession of a document signed by two AFC officials, Solomon Asamoah and Adesegun Akin-Olugbade, confirming that Ometuruwa is entitled to severance benefits.
Seemingly unruffled, he reportedly appeared for the interrogation with his lawyer; but doubtful about the source of the money, the police last week obtained a court order "which allows us to keep the funds whilst the origin is being investigated."
They want Abuja to confirm whether Ometuruwa is entitled to the money "as it appears it was definitely paid to him" by the AFC.
Dissatisfied with the procedure, however, his lawyer said he would go to the City of Westminster Magistrate's Court, saying his client "is clearly entitled to his severance package and wants the funds returned."
The money was transferred to Ometuruwa's Citibank account through Deutsche Bank, which the AFC operate accounts with.
The AFC also has accounts with Citibank, Standard, and UBS.
It came under public scrutiny last year when President Umaru Yar'Adua raised a panel to probe its operations and establish its funding and legality under Nigerian law.
The committee in its report questioned the modalities for the AFC's establishment and funding, and recommended that Nigeria should withdraw its share of $462 million and the interest generated.
It also submitted that Ometuruwa was signatory to all bank accounts held by the AFC, and was, therefore, instrumental to the alleged illegal movement of AFC funds across various markets.
He reportedly told the British police that the AFC "is still operational and is now a private investment bank."
Ometuruwa's arrest may trigger another investigation as to why AFC should continue to operate an account more or less frozen by Nigeria, even though he has countered that he never received any court papers freezing any AFC account, let alone the JP Morgan account.
He told the British police that JP Morgan was involved with AFC money but that several short term investments were made in blue chip banks, and that after Nigeria withdrew its $462 million, the AFC continued in its private capacity and operated other accounts.
It was learnt that British police are demanding information that would either contradict or authenticate his claims.
They said it appears from the face of it that the payment Ometuruwa received is his entitlement as per the terms of his employment.
The investigators said they may return the money to him unless the government acts fast and presents proof that it is the proceeds of crime.
So, as a source confirmed, the committee that investigated the AFC had by last weekend sent documents to London to prove that the money is illegal.
He noted that the committee may be handicapped in prosecuting the matter as the Federal Government has not issued a White Paper on its report.
Since the report was submitted "no statement has been made by the government, neither has any of the recommendations been acted upon, an indication that some officials have been compromised," the source added.