Diezani Alison-Madueke, Nigeria’s former Petroleum Resources Minister, purchased Port Harcourt’s Le Meridien Hotel for $25million from a former Rivers State military administrator, Anthony Akpo, SaharaReporters learned at the weekend.
Our sources say that the transaction was carried out using several persons, including Dauda Lawal, a First Bank of Nigeria Executive Director.
Lawal’s role, according to investigators at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was to pick up from Skye Bank in Lagos and innocuously drop off $25million cash into a bank account at Sterling Bank PLC.
The directive to pick up the huge cash haul was coordinated by Stanley Lawson, a former group executive director of Finance and accounts at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
During EFCC interrogations, Dauda claimed he did not know that the transaction was aimed at purchasing Le Meriden Hotel in Port Harcourt, and that he was only helping a friend, Mr. Lawson, to run errands. People knowledgeable about Mr. Lawal’s closeness to Diezani, which some say sometimes appeared to be romantic, said he may not be telling the whole truth.
Lawal was one of the bankers arrested by the EFCC in a recent fraud-related raid of high profile bankers involved in financial crimes perpetrated by Mrs. Alison-Madueke. Others include Herbert Wigwe of Access Bank PLC, Nnamdi Okonkwo of Fidelity Bank PLC, and Yemi Adeola, the MD of Standard Bank PLC.
Le Meriden hotel was conceived as a five-star hotel. It was built in 2003 by retired Brigadier General Ukpo with the help of Julius Berger, the construction company with whom he became acquainted during his early days first as the military administrator of Rivers state and later as the Principal Secretary to former Military dictator, Ibrahim Babangida. Ukpo sold the 87-room luxury hotel to Mrs. Alison-Madueke through a web of actors with the hope that no one would find out.
After the EFCC discovered the fraudulent sale, Ukpo reportedly offered to hand over the hotel to the federal government, but President Buhari is believed to have rejected the offer, saying the government has no business managing a hotel, and insisting that Ukpo return $25m to the federation account.
It is unclear why the former army chief has not yet been arrested.