Connect with us

Investigations

Whistleblower hounded for exposing corruption in Federal Medical Centre Keffi

-millions diverted to private pockets, unqualified lab scientists employed in haematology unit

Published

on

Entrance to the Federal Medical Centre Keffi [Photo credit: Google]

A senior Medical Laboratory Scientist on grade level 10 at the Federal Medical Centre Keffi, Umeh Gabriel Uzoma, has known no peace for blowing the whistle on a cabal of corrupt officials who for years set up different conduits, funnelling government money into private accounts.

Since exposing what turned out to be serial corruption, life has become a living hell for the whistleblower whose salary payment was frozen pronto as he faces a technical dismissal.

Umeh has suffered multiple harassment and indignities to a point a female colleague once spat in disgust, asking him: “what are you still doing here?” That incident was succeeded by “violent assaults from my head of unit, Mrs. Afolake Bello, who held my phone and asked me to leave the laboratory.

Umeh’s actions as a whistleblower was inspired by a circular with Reference FMC/KF/ADM/538 from the office of the Medical Director to all HODs/Units. The circular, dated 23 January 2017 has the heading: ILLEGAL COLLECTION OF CASH FROM PATIENTS.

It reads: “Management has observed that some staff are in the habit of collecting cash illegally from patients for some services rendered. No staff should collect cash under any circumstances from patients but to direct such patients to pay at the bank.”

The circular goes on to say: “It is the responsibility of the Head of Department/Unit to ensure as a matter of duty that all services rendered are properly captured and payment made via the EMR platform. Any officer that violet this will be meted with proper sanctions. This should be considered as the last warning.”

The whistler exposed how cash was collected from patients and remitted to the HOD, Laboratory Services, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat and Head of Unit Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat including cash for cross matching of blood and from sales of pints of blood.

He also exposed how unqualified ‘cover-up’ staff were accommodated as part of the ring perpetrating illegal activities in the Laboratory Services Department of the hospital under Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat, head of the Haematology unit and the HOD, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat who the whistleblower alleged would bring into the laboratory, a personal genotype machine and conduct medical test to enrich his pocket.

According to Umeh, “My HOD Laboratory Services, Mr. Haruna Muhammad Aminat and Head of Unit Mrs. Afolake Bello Saidat asked us to be collecting money from patients and their relatives remitting it to our senior colleague by name Abdul Mohammed for hospital services rendered instead of patients or their relatives making payments at the cash point or bank, which I asked patients to pay and bring receipts of payments.”

Documents obtained by SATELLITE TIMES show how the directive from the Chief Medical Director was brazenly violated. Secret log-book leaked to SATELLITE TIMES detailed records of cash collected from patients. Most times patients were extorted as monies they were made to pay were above official charges.

Quacks employed in the Haematology Unit

The whistleblower revealed that some members of staff in the haematology unit are not qualified, adding that they were ostensibly smuggled into the hospital employ just to play the money game.

Documents revealed that they were not licensed by the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN). The implications of unlicensed practitioners made to work in one of the most sensitive units of the hospital where blood samples are analysed know no bound.

The Whistleblower described the unlicensed staff members as “cover-up staffs”. Though not qualified to work in the laboratory, they are “untouchable”.

SATELLITE TIMES obtained a letter dated 31st May 2017 from the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) to the Keffi Chapter of the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria. Some staff members working as Medical Laboratory Scientists at FMC Keffi were considered as “either not qualified or are yet to be registered with MLSCN” as their names were not found in the MLSCN data base.

The letter from MLSCN named Namo Allu Fidelis and Lekshak Grace Sunday, emphasising that “the underlisted names were not found in our database which suggests that they are either not qualified or are yet to be registered with MLSCN”. The letter was signed by G.A Aikpitanyi-Iduitua, Deputy Director, Practitioners’ Regulation and Discipline.

The MLSCN is the National Medical Laboratory Accreditation Agency, a federal statutory body established by Act 11, 2003 which is responsible for the registration and licensing of Medical Scientists in Nigeria.

After Umeh squealed on the corrupt officers, he was first deployed from the haematology unit to the histopathology unit where his services were not needed.

Even after he had vigorously argued that he studied haematology and clinical chemistry and that he lacked the requisite knowledge and skill set to work in the histopathology unit, he was given a deaf ear. Histopathology is the study of changes in tissue caused by disease. Haematology, on the other hand, is the branch of medicine concerned with the study of the cause, prognosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases related to blood. The whistleblower is a trained haematologist.

After the redeployment to the Histopathology Unit where he was forced to work as a quack, to which he refused, Gabriel Umeh’s salary was stopped November 2017. Upon enquiry, the accounts department informed him his name had been removed from the schedule of payment in the Integrated Payroll and Personal Information System (IPPIS).

SATELLITE TIMES visited FMC Keffi seeking official response. The Chief Medical Director, Yahaya Baba Adamu, said he was only seven days on the job.

Chief Medical Director, Federal Medical Centre Keffi, Yahaya Baba Adamu [Photo credit: Mr Adamu’s Facebook page]

“I am actually in the process of taking over. Unfortunately, I have not been able to get this privilege information since I arrived here” the new Chief Medical Director said.

Yahaya described Satellite Times investigation as, “something quite commendable” adding it was “an eye opener” as it will help him to widen his searchlight. He pledged for time to look into the allegations and clean up the system. That was on 12 July 2018.

Two months later, in September, SATELLITE TIMES returned to the hospital but met with hostilities from the secretary to the Chief Medical Director. This reporter was however able to speak to some patients who pleading anonymity lamented countless cases of corruption they had experienced in the hands of hospital officials.

Located some 52 kilometres from Abuja, the hospital’s proximity to the neighboring states of Benue, Plateau, Kaduna, Kogi and Niger, contributes to the increase in the number of referral cases to the FMC Keffi.

Yet another attempt was made by this newspaper in November to get an official response, this time from the Public Relation Officer, Mr. Abdullahi Mohammed. Speaking over the phone, he promised to get back but never did.

A staff member of the hospital (name withheld) corroborated the whistleblower’s story, adding that among the senior officials who sat in a group with the new Chief Medical Director inside his office to welcome SATELLITE TIMES in July, were actually those mentioned in the petition written by the whistleblower.

“How can the same people be in the group investigating their own case,” she quipped.

1 Comment

1
Leave a Reply

avatar
1 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
1 Comment authors
Wismanduk Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Wismanduk
Guest
Wismanduk

I plead for anonymity too,im a staff of the hospital and I can assure you that what is happening at the Medical laboratory services department is only a tip of the iceberg of corruption that has eaten deep into the fibrics of the hospital.The corruption fueling corruption…You May need to dig further to get more facts.

Investigations

EXCLUSIVE: 10 mystery containers shipped into Nigeria by CMA CGM Delmas

– Police suspect arms and ammunition.

– cargoes cleared without physical examination.

– Warrant of Arrest on CMA CMG Shipping Manager.

Published

on

CMA CGM Centaurus
CMA CGM Centaurus used to illustrate the story - 'EXCLUSIVE: 10 mystery containers shipped into Nigeria by CMA CGM Delmas'

The true contents of 10 containers shipped into Nigeria under mysterious circumstances are now subjects of diverse speculations among port workers in Lagos just as a powerful syndicate believed to be behind the shipment has been deploying its influence within the Nigerian Police Force, the Nigeria Customs Service, Ports Terminal Operators and elsewhere to hush the matter. The contents of these containers remain uncertain especially as they were cleared from the port without any physical examinations, using apparently falsified shipping documents to pass through the clearing process.

Documents obtained by SATELLITE TIMES show that the ten containers were shipped into the country by a shipping company called CMA CMG Delmas Nigeria Shipping Ltd with office at 26 Creek Road, Apapa, Lagos. The consignments arrived TinCan Island Port Lagos from Jakarta, Indonesia on board a vessel named Maersk Conakry/CMA-CGM with voyage number 8W100E. The consignee was given as J.I. Ejison International Ltd with address as 109 Upper New Market Road, Onitsha, Anambra State.

Findings by this newspaper show that the 10 containers (5 x 20-Foot containers with Sea Way Bill No. ID20271634 and another 5 x 20-Foot containers with Sea Way Bill No. ID20271677) were manifested as cartons of soap with J.I. Ejison International Ltd as the consignee. At the time of the import, soap was a prominent item on the Import Prohibition List of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Particulars of the 10 mystery containers

The10 mystery containers have the following as their container numbers and seal numbers:

CAXU3378488 D6701293 12500KG

IPXU3358657  D6701484  12500KG

TRLU3957001  D6701386  12500KG

ECMU1295120 D6701340 12500KG

GESU1373150  D6701381  12500KG

ECMU1348472 D668863812500KG

CNCU1529716 D6688637 12500KG

ECMU1542317 D6688581 12500KG

XINU1528288 D6688590 12500KG

FC1U3450531 D6688503 12500KG

On arrival of the 10 containers at the port of destination in Nigeria, the original Manifest and Bills of Lading showing the cargoes as prohibited goods were tampered with and new ones generated in their place. Following these, key shipping documents were altered just as the name of the consignee was changed from J.I. Ejison International Ltd to Fadobra Ventures Ltd with address as 44 Abiola Oluwa Street, Lagos. The description of goods was changed from “cartons of soap” to “Manicure and Pedicure sets”.

Ports insiders told SATELLITE TIMES that these changes, described as “grave” and accommodated by CMA CMG were not consistent with best practices, particularly the Port Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) given that the e-Form M and e-Manifest had already been lodged and once so done cannot be reversed.

Explaining the malpractices, the port insider said: “It is like Ekene Dilichukwu Motors receiving 10 cartons of milk from Company A to be transported from Lagos to Port Harcourt. But after the goods had arrived destination, the waybill is changed to read 10 cartons of nails while the name of the owner is changed from Company Ato Company Z”.

SATELLITE TIMES was able to obtain a copy of the Form M, one of the most important documents used in shipping transactions. The Form M No. 20140069224 used in this controversial transaction was altered in favour of Fadobra Ventures Ltd instead of J.I Ejison International Limited – the original beneficiary.

Form M

Not a few maritime operators told this newspaper that the Form M could only have been forged given that at the inception of any importation, the importer/consignee, in this case J.I Ejison International Limited, must first apply for and obtain Form M only after meeting specified requirements including providing the company’s tax record as contained in its unique Tax Identification Number (TIN). Form M are issued by banks to an import company only after the said company had presented itself to mandatory scrutiny, including stringent Forex guidelines and money laundering prevention measures. As a result, a Form M obtained by one company cannot be transferred to another company just as a Form M obtained by a company for the importation of a specified item cannot be utilised even by the same company to import a different type of item.

SATELLITE TIMES investigations revealed that virtually every document associated with the 10 mystery containers is riddled with discrepancies. The shipping company CMA CMG claims that in swapping both the consignees and the contents of the containers, it acted on instruction from the shipper (Messers. Sea Air & Land Forwarding Ltd)leading to an amendment dated 27th April 2015.  Curiously, other documents show that the amendments to the consignee’s name and contents were carried out by CMA CMG on 18th March 2015. This was 40 days before the purported instructions from the shipper.

Yet another glaring anomaly in the documentation is that while the amended bill of lading describes the 10 containers as containing manicure and pedicure sets, the cargo was eventually released by the shipping company CMA CMG, as the prohibited item, soap. This is clearly captured in CMA CMG’s delivery order issued on 8th May 2015, a copy of which was obtained by this newspaper. This development led dock workers tracking the mystery cargoes to second-guessing the true contents of the 10 containers which they said might neither be soap nor manicure and pedicure sets as alleged.

Botched physical examination

Prince Jide Olowu, a Customs agent familiar with the Nigeria’s current Clearing & Forwarding regime, told SATELLITE TIMES that irrespective of the claims by any importer, the only way to ascertain the true contents of a container is by subjecting it to physical examination.

“I must say that because of corruption, the Customs is very selective when it comes to physical examination, but at least, that was how recent imports containing Tramadol were detected”, Olowu said.

Though the shipping company, CMA CMG’s claims the 10 mystery containers were subjected to 100% physical examination by Customs officials before they were released to the importers, documents available to SATELLITE TIMES show that no physical examinations was carried out.

The 10 containers were supposedly transferred on Saturday 9th May 2015 to Don Climax Bonded Terminal for 100% examination by the Customs and other statutory agencies of government. Shipping documents however show that the 10 containers were released by Customs, CMA CGM Nigeria Shipping Ltd and security agencies earlier days earlier – on/or before 8th May 2015.

Prince Olowu assured it is never a normal practice for cargoes to be released to the consignee (the last stage in the clearing process) before the same cargois transferred to a Bonded Terminal (in this case Don Climax) for 100% physical examination.

Additional evidence showing the 10 containers were never subjected to physical examination before they were released to Fondora Ventures Ltd can be found in documents from the official records of Tin Can Island Container Terminal (TICT). Whilst CMA CGM claim the 10 containers were transferred on 9th May 2015 to Don Climax Bonded Terminal for 100% examination by Customs and other statutory agencies of government, the containers were still in the custody of TICT as evidenced by receipts of rent payment on the 10 containers to TICT. Receipts show the 10 containers were still attracting rent at TICT even on 9th May 2015 when they were supposedly already transferred to Don Climax Bonded Terminal.

Payment receipt

As tongues began wagging over the 10 mystery containers, the attention of the Zone 2 Monitoring Unit of the Nigeria Police was soon attracted. Statements made by TICT Terminal Manager and other workers to Police investigators at Force Headquarters Alagbon on March 2018 show that the 10 containers were still at TICT at the time they were said to have been transferred to Don Climax Bonded Terminal for 100% physical examination. The Terminal Manager and other TICT staff members had been invited by the Police to say what they knew in connection to the 10 containers.

Warrant of Arrest on CMA CMG Shipping Manager

On 20th April 2017, a Warrant of Arrest was issued by the Igbosere Magistrate Court in respect of CMA CMG Shipping Manager, Mr. Anthony Ukawoko. A copy of the warrant obtained by SATELLITE TIMES shows that police investigators had stated that CMA CMG “conspired to import prohibited goods suspected to be arms and ammunition by Fondora Ventures Ltd, J.I Ejison Int. Ltd, F.N Njoku, Donatus Obele and Don Climax Bonded Terminal and Ventures”.

The Police came to that hypothesis following the serial contradictions in the documentation process for the 10 containers as well as the apparent determination to conceal the true contents of the containers, changing them from soap to manicure and pedicure sets and back to soap which by the evasion of physical examination remains a mystery.

None of the telephone messages sent to the Customs Public Relations Officer, Mr. Joe Attah, were reverted to just as CMA CMG staffers refused to grant entry to SATELLITE TIMES’s reporter who had gone to the Lagos office of the shipping company to obtain official reaction for the story.

Resorting to the services of a courier company, GIG Logistics, SATELLITE TIMES on 28th September 2018 in Abuja sent a two-page media enquiry to the Managing Director of CMA CMG. About three weeks later, the company sent back the same media enquiry to this newspaper without commenting on any of the issues raised.

In November 2018, the same reporter returned to CMA’s office and after two days of attempts, the media enquiry was received and acknowledged by a staffer who claimed the shipping company had no Public Relation Officer.

Continue Reading

Investigations

Exclusive: 44 companies import 500 containers using cloned Form M  

-over N9 billion diverted in tariff fraud

Published

on

A photo of Apapa Port in Lagos, Nigeria used to illustrate the story

In what is probably the most brazen display of impunity by powerful syndicates at the Lagos seaport, a total of 44 companies are discovered to have imported about 500 containers into the country using same Form M. Of the 44 companies (see list below) 30 brought in various consignments using Form M with number MF20170010026/ BA No. 21420170005250 which was cloned and recycled 29 times over a period of two years between 2017 and 2018 in a massive and sophisticated serial tariff fraud.

Five of the 44 companies namely Max Holding & Sons Ltd, Auto Creation E-Hub Ltd, Joneble Holding & Sons Ltd, Bossman Holding Ltd and Vintage Nigeria Ltd used another cloned Form M with number MF20170019026/ BA No. 21420170005260 for their shipping transactions while the Form M used by three companies, Garba Murtala Tafida, Ogwuni Rolland Edwin and Pedrona Ltd are so tampered with vital information scrubbed out that this newspaper is unable to read them.

Two companies with business names The Seacorp Nig. Ltd and Flex Nig. Ltd utilised for their transactions one Form M MF2017013894/BA No. 21450034.

The last four companies each quoted Form M numbers in their documents thus: Sonai Shipping Ltd MF20180052740; Cosmos &Sons Ltd MF20170010111; Duncan Maritime Ventures Nig. Ltd MF20170094928 and Emoko Real Properties Nig. Ltd MF20130010026. Curiously, all the four Form Ms have no batch numbers thus making it impossible to determine the name of the bank that issued the Form Ms in the first place and also making it difficult to track the source of funds used by the business owners in the transactions.

Two months ago, in September, SATELLITE TIMES blew the lid on a powerful “Port Cabal” that specialised in using clone Form M documents to perpetrate large scale fraud at the Lagos seaports. The report exposed how the Cabal imported millions of dollars’ worth of luxury vehicles, many of them armoured, into the country using just one Form M. The offensive Form M with number: MF 20170010026 was used in importing a total of 554 luxury vehicles that included one Rolls Royce, 84 Toyota Landcruiser, 41 Toyota Fortuner, 123 Toyota Prado, 46 Lexus 570/460, 140 Toyota Hilux, 32 Toyota Camry, 21 Toyota Coaster, 43 Toyota Hiace, 21 Mitsbushi Pajero and 2 Range Rover, most of them armoured and targeted at high-end market.

Cargo manifest

Cargo manifest

While the September report about 17 companies colluding to use one Form M had left ordinary Nigerians and anti-corruption crusaders in utter disbelief, the story pales into insignificance with the latest discovery of 44 companies pulling off an even bigger fraud without the Colonel Hameed Ali-led leadership of the Nigerian Customs Service being any wiser. Intriguingly, it was the same Form M MF 20170010026 used by the 17 companies to bring in 554 exotic cars that was also utilized by a new group of 27 companies to import more cargoes, bringing the number to 44 consignees.

Form M explained

Form M is the most important item in the documentation process put in place by the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), to monitor goods imported into the country as well as to enable collection of import duties where applicable.

Any person intending to import physical goods into Nigeria must initiate the importation by processing a Form M through an authorised dealer (licensed bank). Alongside the Form M, a host of other documentation will be presented to the bank. Where approved, the Form M serves as authority to the bank to open letters of credit for foreign exchange transactions on behalf of the importer.

This form has a unique number which must be quoted/written on all the shipping documents; although there are exemptions such as Diplomatic cargos (of reasonable quantity), personal effects, goods shipped in by government agencies or goods shipped into Free Trade Zones in Nigeria such as the Calabar Free Trade Zone (CFTZ).

Form M is the first official document needed to initiate shipment to NigeriaThe life span of a Form M is 6 months (for general merchandise) and one year (for plant and machinery), after which an extension of 6 months (for general merchandise) and one year (for plant and machinery).

 

Cargo manifest

Cargo manifest

A Form M is usually issued for a particular supply contract (between the oversea manufacturer and the Nigerian importer) and allows for part shipments within the validity period. For large project such as stadium construction, a Bulk Form M can be issued, which allows continuous part shipments throughout the validity of the Form M.

Form M is a form of licence. Approval of a Form M depends, among other things, on the forex okayed for the importer by the CBN for a particular import. To obtain Form M, the importer must present his Tax Identification Number (TIN). In fact, the TIN is now key-username to log into the electronic platform to process this all-important document. Form M is not transferable from one importer to another. And a Form M approved for the import of a particular item cannot be used even by the same importer to bring in a different item.

An industry stakeholder (names withheld) gave “a rough estimate” of the values of the 500 containers imported by the 44 companies as “over N100 billion”. It will take the expertise of forensic financial investigators to arrive at the true value of the imports. However, SATELLITE TIMES was told that “because all the imports were luxury goods, they attract 20% duty of the true value, 50% levy and 5% VAT. Indeed, the cloning and manipulations of Form M and allied shipping documents are aimed at escaping payment of accurate levies and tariffs. The industry stakeholder added that the Federal government must have “lost nothing less than N9 billion to this batch alone of cloned Form M imports”.

Official reactions were sought by this newspaper at the headquarters of the Nigerian Customs Service in Abuja. Clearly-worded text messages sent to the mobile number of the Service PRO, Mr. Joe Attah, was not responded to at press time.

List of the 44 companies

1. Five Stax Group Ltd

2. Emy Cargo & Shipping Services

3. Volta MP Equipment Nig. Ltd

4. Vintage Nig. Ltd.

5. Suplus Nig. Ltd

6. Brasslet Nig. Ltd.

7. Sonnex Nig. Ltd.

8. Zako Bag Allied Nig. Ltd.

9. Kaslak Nig. Ltd.

10.Zeb Holding Ltd.

11.Cosmos & Sons Nig. Ltd.

12. Joneble Holding & Sons Nig. Ltd.

13. Amaju & Sons Nig. Ltd.

14. Zinktex Nig. Ltd.

15. Dabik Holding & Sons Nig. Ltd.

!6. Landhoast Ltd.

17. Ogwuni Rolland Edwin

18. Ruffo Nig. Ltd.

19. Marko Nig. Ltd.

20. Sengenmenge Nig. Ltd.

21. Offor and Sons Nig. Ltd.

22. Lext Vin Nig. Ltd.

23. Modul Oil and Gas Ltd

24. Ducan Maritime Ventures Nig. Ltd.

25. Carmen Ltd.

26. Garba Murtala Tafida

27. Auto Creation E-Hub Ltd.

28.  Emoko Real Properties Nig. Ltd.

29.  Osland Ltd.

30.  Brimax Still Nig. Ltd.

31. Akuabia Prince Afamefuna

32. Max Holding & Sons Ltd,

33.Auto Creation E-Hub Ltd,

34.Joneble Holding & Sons Ltd,

35.Bossman Holding Ltd

36. Vintage Nigeria Ltd

37. Garba Murtala Tafida,

38. Ogwuni Rolland Edwin and

39. Pedrona Ltd

40. The Seacorp Nig. Ltd

41. Flex Nig. Ltd

42. Sonai Shipping Ltd

43. Cosmos &Sons Ltd

44. Duncan Maritime Ventures Nig. Ltd

 

Continue Reading

Investigations

Exclusive: After $2 Billion tax evasion, another MTN’s multi-billion offshore transfer discovered

-shifts billions to companies in Dubai and Mauritius

Published

on

MTN building showing its logo

Weeks after the Nigerian authorities discovered that telecom giant MTN had skipped paying $2 billion in tax relating to import duties, VAT and withholding taxes on foreign imports/payments, new tranches of transfer are yet discovered to have been made by MTN to companies in Dubai and Mauritius using sophisticated tax avoidance schemes.

MTN has consistently prided itself as the foremost telephone company that gets Nigerians talking the most. Now the South African company is about to set tongues wagging across networks with revelations that it has routinely been shipping billions of naira overseas to avoid paying its fair share of tax in Nigeria.

An 11-month- investigation by this reporter in collaboration with UK-based Finance Uncovered reveals that MTN has been running circles around Nigerian revenue authorities using a complex but noxious tax avoidance scheme called Transfer Pricing. For any economy, it is a slow death.

The red flag was raised the moment our investigations showed that MTN Nigeria has been making payments to two overseas companies – MTN Dubai and MTN International in Mauritius – both located in tax havens.

It was discovered that in 2013 for example, MTN set aside N11.398 billion from MTN Nigeria to pay to MTN Dubai. A similar transfer of N11.789 billion was made by MTN Ghana to the same MTN Dubai, making it a total of N23.187 billion that was shipped to the Dubai offshore account.

In a rare disclosure in 2013, MTN admitted it made unauthorized payments of N37.6 billion to MTN Dubai between 2010 and 2013. The transfers were then “on-paid” to Mauritius, a shell company with zero number of staff and which physical presence in the capital Port Louis is nothing more than a post office letter box.

The disclosure amounted to a confession given that MTN made the dodgy transfers without seeking approval from the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP), the body mandated to oversight such transfers.

N90.2 billion transferred out of Nigeria

On the basis of an earlier management fees agreement that was technically quashed by NOTAP and on the basis of MTN’s reported revenues, it is estimated that N90.2 billion could have been transferred out of Nigeria in management fees alone since the company was founded in 2002.

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: Secret memos and documents from MTN’s $14 Billion offshore transfers

A menace called Transfer Pricing

For corporate organizations determined to escape the taxman but still cleverly staying on the right side of the law, Transfer Pricing is the new cellar door constructed by the most ingenious of accountants. It is a new global disease to which Third World economies are the most vulnerable.

Multinationals employ Transfer Pricing to move their profits offshore, leaving behind a shrinking tax base in their host countries and inexorable cuts to public services.

In Africa, tax avoidance has been named as one of the factors holding the continent back by starving governments of the revenues it needs for development.

A report jointly commissioned by the United Nations and the African Union and drafted by a high-level panel led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki considered tax avoidance by multinationals to be an “illicit financial flow” and a significant drain on government resources across the continent.

In total, illicit financial flows -which included corruption and the proceeds of crime – were determined to be costing the continent $50billion a year.

Just last year, South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa had harsh words for tax dodgers. He said: “Tax evasion is not only a crime against the state; it’s also a crime against the people of our country, ordinary people.”

Curiously, the same Cyril Rhamaposa was non-executive chairman of the board of MTN between 2001 and 2013 before he became South Africa’s No.2 man. In effect, the same tax practices which the deputy president strongly condemned in his country as financial crime is vigorously being promoted in Nigeria.

READ ALSO: INVESTIGATION: AGF Malami may file “criminal charges” against Standard Chartered, Stanbic IBTC and Citi Bank over MTN’s $14 billion transfers

MTN is the largest cell phone company in Africa with 227.5 million subscribers. The company, which operates in more than 20 countries across Africa and the Middle East, has Nigeria as its biggest operation.

Until now, tax justice investigations had focused on computer giants, corporations in the extractive industry, food and beverages; in fact, everywhere but the mobile phone sector despite the cell phone industry in Africa being one of the largest and most important industries for the continent.

Mobile phone has been a cheap and quick way of rolling out the vital communications infrastructure that has underpinned Africa’s growth story over the last decade. As a result, the industry has seen explosive growth. With 685million mobile phone users in Africa, the success story means that cell phone companies are now the largest contributor to government revenues in many African countries. That is if they pay their fair share of taxes.

Artificial operating costs

To pay little or no tax, companies determined to cheat begin by seeking ways to create artificial operating costs in the country where they operate. For example, a company is in Nigeria but has a parent or subsidiary company in another country. It makes huge profit but decides to declare a much lower profit-before-tax. To achieve this, it pays the parent and/ or subsidiary company for services not rendered and ships cash to them. Where services are rendered, the costs are inflated. Such services may include royalty for the use of brand name, procurement services, technical services and management services.

Typically, the recipient company is located in an offshore territory under a different financial jurisdiction. MTN has a substantial network of subsidiaries in offshore tax havens, including the British Virgin Islands, Dubai and Mauritius.

Because of the growing concerns that multinationals are using intra-company trading to shift profits around the world by overcharging for services delivered or in more extreme cases by creating artificial transactions where no services were rendered at all, respective countries have a maximum percentage of profits it can allow companies to pay out as management fees.

For example, in Senegal, accounts from the company Sonatel show that the company has a ‘cooperation agreement’ with parent company France Telecom that is capped at 1.43% of revenue.

Until 2010 MTN Nigeria had an agreement with MTN Dubai to pay 1.75% of revenues to the company for management, and royalties for the use of the MTN trademark. Nigeria requires that management fees paid by multinationals are approved by the National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP). The fee payments had been reversed following a failure to come to a new agreement on management fees with Nigerian regulators.

READ ALSO: CBN yields to Satellite Times’ report; orders MTN to refund $8 billion

MTN’s previous agreement with NOTAP expired in 2010.

Notwithstanding, MTN has continued to make payments overseas. When these journalists sent questions to MTN over these unauthorized payments, the company told us that this was because they expected NOTAP to approve a new deal and backdate it to the date of the expiry of the previous deal.

MTN’s financial activities are now being questioned by more than one tax authorizes in Africa.

In Ghana the MTN subsidiary, Scancom, has been paying vast management fees to companies located offshore. Our investigations reveal that Scancom paid 758m GHS in management and technical fees to MTN Dubai between 2008 and 2013. This was 9.64% of the company’s revenue. Normally the maximum fee level allowed in Ghana is 6%.

We can reveal that the high levels of fees attracted the attention of Ghana’s intelligence services, which launched an investigation into “economic fraud” between 2012 and 2013.

MTN’s management fees need approval from the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC). The Ghanaian “National Security Taskforce” has called for a “review of all technology transfer and management service agreements currently held by GIPC to remove sections which are inapplicable and wrongly provided for” and upgrading and training of state systems and staff.

In response to this, MTN in Ghana told us: “The technical and management services agreements between Scancom and Investcom were duly approved by the GIPC.”

The current head of the GIPC is Mrs. Mawuena Trebarh, who between 2007 and 2012 was responsible for government relations at MTN Ghana. This reporting team asked Mrs Trebarh to comment on whether her previous role could be perceived a conflict of interest. She did not respond to our requests.

In response to our enquiries MTN confirmed that the company paid 12 billion West African Francs in 2012 and 14 billion West African Francs in 2013 in management fees to MTN International. The figure for 2013 is equivalent to 5% of the revenue made by MTN in Cote d’Ivoire.

Dubai paradox

Dubai is one of the places MTN ships huge profits to. Meanwhile, MTN does not operate any mobile phones in Dubai, yet it has significant operations in the small city state.

MTN told us that it employs around 115 people in Dubai who provides services to the MTN group such as group procurement, group finance, legal services, human resources and other corporate functions.

One tool that campaigners have said will be helpful is to look at company reporting on a country by country basis. If a company is making huge revenues in a country where it has few employees but there is a low tax rate, which would suggest that there may be some profit shifting taking place.

In Uganda, a dispute between the Uganda Revenue Authority and MTN has revealed that the company is paying 3% of its turnover in management fees to MTN International.

The fees have been challenged by the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) who issued MTN with a “notice of assessment” in 2011. This was for a number of tax issues between 2003 and 2009, but a large portion was to do with a dispute over management fees, most of which had been paid to Mauritius.

READ ALSO: EXCLUSIVE: South African President, UK and UAE lobbyists fought hard to stop MTN’s $8 billion sanction

Correspondence between the URA and MTN seen by us show that the URA questioned the legitimacy of these fees, and pointed out that MTNI, the company providing “management services” to MTN Uganda had not spent any money in the years they had looked into. The URA said this could only mean two things: that management services provided to MTN Uganda had either already been paid for by MTN Uganda (and so MTN was in effect charging twice for the same thing) or they were never provided at all.

The Ugandan authority told the company: “We have repeatedly asked for evidence of specific work performed by MTN Group for MTN Uganda for each of the tax years 2003 to 2009. We have only been provided with very little information relating to 2009 and the latter years. This information is very far from justifying a payment of 3 per cent of MTN Uganda’s turnover as management fees.”

NOTAP keeps mum

Asked to confirm the amount of fees paid out to MTN Dubai and Mauritius based on the company’s reported revenue between 2002 and today, MTN said: “There is no disclosure obligation for this information in South Africa or Nigeria.”

Asked to explain the possible justification for MTN Nigeria to pay fees for management and technical services to a company with no employees, MTN said: “It is the contracting party’s prerogative as to how it elects to discharge its contractual obligations.”

Meaning is that MTN Mauritius can perform its task without a single staff member.

This reporter made sustained efforts to get NOTAP and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) to comment on the MTN practices in Nigeria.

The Director in charge of Technology Transfer and Agreement, Ephraim Okejiri, initially pleaded that he was in a meeting, and that the reporter should wait. But after over four hours of waiting, he sent a secretary to say he would not be able to give any information on MTN.

Similarly, at Nigeria’s tax agency, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Director of Public Communications, Emmanuel Obeta, who had earlier promised on three occasion to make information available on the matter suddenly had a change of mind. He claimed relevant officials who should provide him with the information sought were all not available.

Emmanuel Mayah first published this investigation in October 2015

Continue Reading

Follow me on Twitter

Trending

Copyright © 2018 Satellite Times. All rights reserved. This material and any other material on this platform may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, written or distributed in full or in part, without written permission from SATELLITE TIMES.

error: Alert: Content is protected !!