By SaharaReporters, New York
On his behalf, the Lagos law firm of Yemi Gbonegun and Co said today that the rural road construction contracts were awarded in 2004 and 2005 to companies in which Dr. Okupe has substantial interests and served as Chairman, but denied they were awarded to him personally.
And beyond the mobilization payments, those companies received other payments over a period exceeding two years continuously for work done, the statement said.
“We also confirm that contrary to reports in the media, on no account did any of the companies bolt away with any money and if they had, the state governments would have legally had recourse to the Bank Guarantees issued, held the banks accountable and recovered their monies,” the statement said.
It said disputes about certificates of payments arose in both transactions, claiming that this is normal between a contractor and its employers, and that the issues were at different times thoroughly investigated by the EFCC, but that no fraud or any criminality was ever found against any of the Companies.
“In the case of Imo State Government a settlement agreement out of court was reached while in Benue State both parties agreed to go in for arbitration in accordance with the provisions of the signed contract document,” it further said.
Today’s statement by Yemi Gbonegun and Co. raised more questions than it answered. It did not explain why, as previously reported by SaharaReporters, Dr. Okupe was personally detained by the EFCC for an entire month in 2006.
In 2005, during the tenure of Governor Achike Udenwa, Okupe went to Imo state with a business partner, the Israeli businessman Ilan Salman. Okupe got a contract to import Romix Soilfix, a soil stabilizing substance, from South Africa for the construction of four kilometres of road in each of the 27 local government areas at the rate of N14 million per km.
That amounted to N1.512 billion. Okupe was paid mobilization fee of N400 million twice (totaling N800m). He was then paid another N350 million for the little work done, with just about 8km out of the 108km Romix promised to construct.
This means that Okupe was paid over N1.2billion, with very little to show for it. He carried out his lack of work in the State in collaboration with the former Speaker of the Imo State Assembly, Chief Godfrey Dikeocha.
As investigations into the daylight hoax heated up, Okupe’s engineers were arrested in Owerri alongside the LGA chairmen and moved to Ikoyi, Lagos.
In addition, Okupe’s head office, which was at that time on Isale Eko Street in Dolphin Estate, was sealed up and Chief Okupe locked up for one month by the EFCC, but he was never tried.
The situation in Benue State was similar. Through Messrs Value Trust Investments Ltd., Okupe secured a contract valued at N2.303 billion, again for the construction of rural roads across the state. By July 17, 2006, he had been paid N886.8m.
The man who would later be invited by President Goodluck Jonathan to serve as his leading voice on Public Affairs then disappeared. That case, as was the situation in Imo State, was brought to the EFCC.
With today’s statement by his lawyers, Okupe confirms the two contracts that have come to light but not their details, including why the contracts were never completed, or what was done with the vast sums he collected using his top-level access in the People’s Democratic Party.