(Sahara Reporters) – Former Governor Bukola Saraki of Kwara State today went into hiding after he was handed a judicial setback in his effort to bar the police from interrogating him on his role in a major bank loan fraud.
Justice Gladys Olotu of the Federal High Court in Abuja this morning rejected Mr. Saraki’s request for a restraining order against the special anti-fraud unit of the Nigeria police. The unit seeks to question Mr. Saraki, who is now a Nigerian senator, over his involvement in a $133.5 million loan fraud at the InterContinental Bank.
A police source told SaharaReporters that Mr. Saraki went underground as soon as the judge cleared the way for his arrest. “We are going to declare him a wanted man unless he comes out on his own and reports to us for questioning,” the police source said.
The senator had earlier issued a press release claiming that the court had granted him a restraining order, but SaharaReporters exclusively reported that the claim was deceptive as no such order was granted.
At today’s hearing, the attorney representing the police, Femi Falana, fiercely opposed Senator Saraki’s motion. Mr. Falana told the judge that there was no basis for the motion as the police have the statutory right to interrogate the senator. In addition, he stated that unless Saraki’s case was handled with probity, it could end up in the Ibori way, a reference to former Governor James Ibori of Delta who was allowed to waltz to freedom in a Nigerian court only to be sentenced to 13 years by a UK court.
After taking arguments from both sides, Justice Olotu dismissed Mr. Saraki’s motion for a restraining order. The ruling clears the way for the impending interrogation and likely arrest of the now fugitive Saraki. Justice Olotu also adjourned till May 22, 2012 to hear arguments by Mr. Saraki’s attorneys that his human rights were being infringed.
SaharaReporters first broke the story about the senator’s involvement in a fraud where Lai Mahmood Alabi, a former CEO of InterContinental Bank, wrote off more than N8 billion in debt owed by companies where Mr. Saraki and his family are major owners.
Mr. Alabi had worked for Tsonga Farms, a firm owned by the Sarakis, before Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi of the Central Bank of Nigeria appointed him to run the then distressed InterContinental Bank. In addition, Mr. Alabi released several choice real estate properties that the Sarakis had used as collateral to secure the loans.
This is not the first time Senator Saraki would be in legal trouble over his dealings with banks. In 1990, years before he became governor, Mr. Saraki and his sister, then Gbemisola Saraki, were arrested by the same anti-fraud police and arraigned for theft and forgery related to a relating sum of N510, 000 (the equivalent of $3,000) at the Societe Generale Bank where they both worked.