The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has launched an investigation into a report of an alleged $3 million fraud involving a Nigerian firm, Zenith Carex.

Global Fund, an international health sector funding mechanism, had raised the $3million fraud allegation in the latest report issued on March 9 by its Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The global organisation, which pools the world’s largest financial donations for the prevention, treatment, and care of AIDS, Tuberculosis, and malaria, blacklisted Zenith Carex in its report.

It accused the firm of systematically inflating invoices for the distribution of health commodities to warehouses and health facilities throughout Nigeria.

The company committed the alleged fraud between 2017 and 2019, a period of two years, the report had stated.

EFCC confirms probe

EFCC, Nigeria’s foremost anti-corruption agency, has confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that it has begun an investigation into the matter.

It confirmed the ongoing investigation against Zenith Carex and others in its reply to this newspaper’s Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

PREMIUM TIMES’ request was fuelled by the rising concerns about the poor attention, Nigeria’s anti-corruption agencies pay to Global Fund’s indictment of Nigerian firms over the years.

This is despite the reputational damage and possible loss of goodwill the blacklisting of the Nigerian firms is capable of causing the country in the global space.

Assuring this newspaper of its efforts to ensure justice is done regarding the matter, EFCC wrote that it is investigating “Zenith Limited for an alleged offence of conspiracy and criminal breach of trust with regards to contracts for the distribution of drugs/vaccine supply chain programme in all states of the federation.”

The letter signed by the head of FoI desk of the agency, Elizabeth Ayodele, wrote that the commission had also met the representatives of Global Fund over the matter.

“It will interest you to know that the investigation has reached an advanced stage,” the letter read in part, adding, “A zoom meeting was even held with representatives of Global Fund to enable them to assist our office on the allegations against the suspects.”



Zenith Carex contacted

When contacted by PREMIUM TIMES in March, a representative of the firm said the company was aware of the OIG report. The contact, however, said the company would not want to comment publicly on the matter as their lawyers were exploring the best possible legal option to take.

But, Zenith Carex denied the allegations in a report by Punch Newspaper on March 11, three days after the OIG’s report was issued.

The firm said EFCC was aware of the development and had invited some of the parties involved. It also called on the federal government to intervene in the matter.

Confronted with EFCC’s fresh revelation to PREMIUM and asked to comment on it again on Friday, an official at Zenith Carex whose phone number appears on the firm’s website, declined to speak.

ALSO READ: Global Fund indicts, blacklists Nigerian firm over alleged $3 million fraud

The official, whom Truecaller identified as Adelana Olamilekan, told our reporter, “The commission had already invited some of our staff for questioning regarding the matter.

“So, I cannot speak further as the case is still under investigation.”

Background

Global Fund is a funding mechanism that pools the world’s largest financial donations for the prevention, treatment, and care of AIDS, Tuberculosis, and malaria.

Given that Nigeria has the highest malaria burden in the world (one in four cases globally), the world’s fourth-largest tuberculosis burden and about two million people living with HIV, funding programmes to stem the tide of these grim indices became a central focus for Global Fund.

Since 2003, the Global Fund has disbursed over $2 billion in Nigeria. But despite that, the country is still dogged by disturbing health statistics partly because corrupt and incompetent officials undercut progress in health management, health experts say.

Zenith, a sub-contractor of Chemonics International, who managed an integrated supply chain for Global Fund Principal Recipients in Nigeria and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was blacklisted by the Fund.

The OIG report said Zenith allegedly inflated distribution invoices up to ten-fold and misrepresented the services executed, resulting in a $3 million overcharge.

The revelation builds on previous yearly reports by the OIG accusing Nigerian companies and government agencies of abusing millions of dollars of the Global Fund aid.

Aside from the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) had previously said it commenced investigation into allegations against Nigerian firms, agencies, and their proxies.

We also sent a similar FOI request to the ICPC seeking to know the status of its investigations of allegations reported by the OIG but there is no response yet.

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