Nigeria

How ICPC recovered 241 houses from public officer in Abuja – chairman

The Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, SAN, has canvassed the payment of interests on stolen funds by benefiting foreign nations as part of measures to redress the menace of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs).

The Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Professor Bolaji Owasanoye, on Thursday disclosed that the agency has recovered 241 ill-acquired houses from one public officer in Abuja.

The ICPC boss disclosed this at the inauguration the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the operations of real estate developers in Abuja, saying that 60 buildings on a large expanse of land was recovered from a public officer also in the capital city.

Though Owasanoye did not disclose their names, the ICPC boss who fingered officials of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) in many cases of land and housing frauds by some real estate developers, also decried the situation where corrupt public officers use real estate investment as vehicle for hiding ill gotten wealth and money laundering.

“Public officers acquire estates in pseudonyms to conceal the illegal origin of funds. This is made possible by the absence of proper documentation, the registration of titles to land and estates in the country and the non-enforcement of beneficial ownership standards. A tour round Abuja especially the metropolis and the central area, would show a lot of estates that are built up but empty.”

“If they had been constructed with funds that were borrowed at market rates, I don’t think any investor would leave such proprieties empty. One way or the other they would put them to use. So it is suspected that some of those estates have been used to launder ill-gotten public funds,” he said.

He stated further that the agency recovered a total of N53, 968, 158, 974.64 after completing the task of the defunct special presidential investigation panel on recovery of public property in collaboration with the FMBN to investigate some real estate developers who defaulted in remittance and payment of money due to government.

He said the agency had received a number of petitions from stakeholders in the real estate and housing sector, off-takers, prospective buyers and the general public regarding the behavior and antics of real estate developers within outside the Abuja.

“They border on forgery, the cloning of land documents, double or multiple land allocations, allocation of land without the minister’s approval, revocation of land title without due process, non delivery of projects, embezzlement of sourced capital, land racketeering, the use of land syndicates and speculators, the marketing of fake layouts, fraudulent allocation of land, inordinate delay in processing of land documents for those who subscribe to their projects, general abuse of office, bribery, dishonesty, fraud, payment scams, or the refusal of government itself to pay fair value for acquired land and the concomitant refusal of settlers and traditional owners to give access to legitimate land allotees and other related issues and challenges,” he said.

According to him, addressing some of the issue raised in the petitions that are forwarded to the ICPC, they have at different times successfully investigated and prosecuted some errant public officers and their collaborators.

Such collaborators, he said, include staff of the Federal Capital Development Authority, (FCDA), staff of Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, persons who abuse public trust, fraudulent real estate development operatives and other ancillary people, who have further deepened the mass housing gap in the FCT.

He also accused the Real Estate Developers of Association of Nigeria (REDAN) of working with some unscrupulous persons in the system to thwart the efforts of government to provide housing for the citizenry.

“Our investigations has led to the recovery of assets and funds, which are either considered to have been diverted that were retrieved in the public interest. In some situations, we have simply ensured that the projects that contemplated were delivered to the beneficiaries who had paid for them.

“Furtherance to the above, we conducted a systems study and review of mass housing delivery in the FCT in 2010 and 2011 where it was discovered that members of the Real Estate Developers of Association of Nigeria (REDAN), who had been allocated huge plots of land for mass housing development in the FCT in collaboration with the Federal Government through the Federal Mortgage Bank and its responsibility to provide infrastructure upon which the allocations were made to them, and they were to work with National Housing Fund (NHF) contributors. These developers failed in the payment of counterpart funding and the delivery of infrastructure to project site and rather they resorted to offering and selling the plots to the highest bidder contrary to the policy.

“Some of these abuses were hardly ever sanctioned by the FCDA. In other words, the FCDA in full knowledge of these abuses simply looked the other way. The effect of the action of REDAN members of course is that low and middle income earners who are supposed to be the direct beneficiaries of NHF because some money is taken out of our salaries as contribution to the NHF, they were denied housing because the plan and objective was totally frustrated by the mischievous and fraudulent approach of the REDAN collaborators because those beneficiaries could not even secure housing allocation which forms the basis for accessing the fund. The estates ended up being the exclusive preserve of the rich in the society.

“The subsequent pressure this put on low and middle income earners is that it becomes a push factor for public sector corruption a public servants who are desperate for their own homes subvert the processes, government policies and they abuse their office for private gain in order to meet the desire for decent housing.

“Furthermore, some members of REDAN access funds from the Federal Mortgage Bank for mass housing but divert those funds to construct private estates, which are again sold at exorbitant prices to the general public, excluding public officers, who are the main and intended beneficiaries of the projects and structures and even the policies and mandates of the Federal Mortgage Bank.

“Such public officers cannot afford the high prices of such houses. It should be noted that by the original concept of the mass housing policy of government, developers are supposed to profile and forward names of allottees to FCDA to issue certificate if occupancy. But in practice developers do not comply with these policies and subscribers are often left at their mercies, holding only letters of allocation without a proper title to land.

“I must note that major culprits and criminals, who are frustrating the problems are the staff of the FCDA and their collaborators. The ICPC over the years has partnered with a number of relevant registries to scale down the incidents of corruption in land tenure system by intelligence and information sharing, making available our forensic tools to analyze documents and detention of forged documents and by prosecuting offenders.”

“It is very important that the FCT and the agencies under it must make sure that they reduce the opportunity for their own staff in collaboration with outsiders to clone documents that lead to defrauding of innocent members of the public including honest real estate developers.

“We have a number of cases whereby the original of certificates of occupancy or land title documents are released to fraudsters and criminals temporarily in order to deceive investors and after that deceit is effected, the documents are returned to the file. This cannot happen unless somebody on the inside has colluded. FMBN processes for loan application for estate development should be made unambiguous transparent and less cumbersome,” he said.

He commended the current administration of the FCT for its efforts to tackle these challenges.

He said efforts should made toward providing transparency in mass housing projects by providing workable evaluation mechanisms to eliminate corruption generally that plagues these schemes.

A Director in charge of anti money laundering unit in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Daniel Esei, said from their records, they have registered over 8,000 real estate firms in the FCT.

He however said most of these real estate firms do not comply with the basic standard as enunciated under the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011 as amended.

This he said makes it possible for the sector being used for money laundering purposes.

He said the EFCC should be given clear powers to be able to mete out administrative sanction on all erring entities, beside the criminal sanction via prosecution.

Defending his association, president of of REDAN, Dr Aliyu Wamakko, denied his members were involved in sharp practices.

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