Jim Ovia Arrested

Managing Director (MD) of Zenith Bank, Mr. Jim Ovia, was yesterday, arrested by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). He was picked up yesterday evening in connection with N3.6 billion allegedly diverted from the Rivers State government house. Although the Manager has given his statement at the commission’s Headquarters, there were indications at press time that he may be held in custody.

The EFCC on Tuesday this week, arrested three Managers of Zenith Bank, among them the Branch Manager, Operations Manager and the Accountant in charge of the government house account. The three will be held in custody till January 12, 2009 and subsequently charged for conspiracy and money laundering when the courts resume after the Judiciary workers’ strike.

The travails of Zenith bank began recently when EFCC declared five officials of the Rivers State Government wanted for alleged misappropriation, money laundering and fraudulent diversion of funds to the tune of N3.6 billion.

The officials who were declared wanted are Mr. Robert C. Aya – Permanent Secretary, Government House, Port Harcourt; Mr. Fubara Kingsley Hart – Director of Finance and Admin, Government House, Port Harcourt and Mr. Harrison B.A.

Princewill- Government House Staff, Port Harcourt. Others are Mr. Nathan Wike- Government House Staff, Port Harcourt. and Mr. Bright Ikonwa- Cashier, Government House, Port Harcourt.

It would also be recalled that the Commission had in October this year invited two prominent officials of Rivers State for questioning. The duo, Secretary to the state government, Magnus Abe and Chief of Staff, Nyelson Wike were invited and held by the anti-graft agency to answer charges relating to N300 million scam.

While Wike was charged to court because a prima facie case had been established against him, the SSG got bail because he was not involved in the scam. Abe, according to sources, was arrested and detained because he had written an undertaking to the EFCC that he would take the state officials, who were invited for interrogation by the anti-graft commission last Monday, but failed to do so.

It was alleged at the time that the Chief of Staff to the governor, Nyeson Wike, in connivance with Zenith Bank officials at the Azikiwe Road branch, opened one of the accounts (Number 601-091-6587) on March 27th 2008 with the fictitious name, “Harrison Ba Princewill.” The account lacked such required information as passport photographs and information about the next of kin of “Harrison B. Princewill”.

According to sources, the account was fully active and enjoying daily inflows of cash such that by April 26 2008, that is, within one month, it had already been credited with N3.6 billion ($30 million).As the money swelled in Zenith bank, officials notified Wike that the account was being monitored for suspicious activities. On June 5th 2008, Mr. Wike colluded with a Zenith bank staff named “Mohammed” to change the account details and convert it to a “Government House Account”. “Harrison Ba Princewill” then became a depositor to the new “Government House Account”.

In a related development, Chairman of the Ukwa East Local Government Area in Abia State, Glory O. Kanu, has been arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC), for stealing over N16.4 million from the council.

The chairman, who was picked up by operatives of the anti-corruption agency at the weekend, will be cooling his heels in its custody until January 12, 2009 when he will be arraigned in court.

An EFCC source told LEADERSHIP that the council chairman is alleged to have awarded a contract to one Anthony Obi, the Managing Director of TMV Logistic Limited and Tony More Ventures for a construction job at the local government headquarters.

The contract, the source disclosed, was awarded for N35 million and after paying the money upfront, the council boss asked the contractor to deposit N16.4 million in a Zenith Bank account which he claimed was a local government account.

“He asked the contractor to pay N16.4 million into a Zenith Bank account purported to be the local government account but which later turned out to be his personal account,” the source said.

The source added that when the contractor started construction, the chairman ordered him to divert building materials, particularly iron rods worth N1.3 million to his personal house project at Ohandu, his home town.

When contacted, EFCC’s head of Media and Publicity, Femi Babafemi, confirmed the arrest and said the council chairman would be held in custody until he is arraigned.