AKEEM NAFIU reviewed activities of the judiciary in the outgoing year 2020 and concluded that some cases involving some politically exposed persons (PEPs) had made the third arm of government thick
For 362 days, the nation’s judiciary indeed got itself busy with cases involving high profile individuals, particularly politically exposed persons (PEPs). In the outgoing year, a number of cases involving high profile individuals as initiated by anti-graft agencies especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were either concluded or still ongoing or freshly initiated.
Here are some of them:
Paul Usoro (SAN) – N1.4 billion
The trial of the former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN), who was docked by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for an alleged N1.4 billion fraud in 2018 continued in the outgoing year before Justice Mohammed Aikawa of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
Justice Aikawa took over the case following its transfer by a former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati from Justice Muslim Hassan before whom Usoro was first arraigned on a 10-count charge of alleged N1.4 billion fraud by the EFCC. Usoro’s trial commenced before Justice Aikawa on with the EFCC calling its first witness, Udom Idongesit, a Relations Manager at the Aka Road Zenith Bank branch in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
In her evidence-in-chief, Idongesit told Justice Aikawa that sometimes in March 2016, she was on a visit to Akwa Ibom State Government House in Uyo on a “marketing call” and while at the place, she overheard a conversation between Governor Emmanuel Udom and the state’s Accountant-General on the need to pay certain sums of money to Usoro.
“This payment, I got to understand, should have gone to Access Bank. I took that as information for myself because the business I do basically thrives on information. “I got back to my office and checked through the system to see if the defendant (Usoro) has an account with Zenith Bank and I found no such account existed.
“I later made moves to get Mr. Usoro open an account with Zenith Bank so that the money which the governor spoke of could be paid to him through Zenith Bank”, the witness said. Idongesit while also continuing her testimony also narrated how N700 million was paid into the bank account of Usoro on the instruction of one, Linus Nkan, a former Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State.
The witness added that funds were later transferred to certain individuals and firms on Usoro’s instruction. “On March 22, 2016, Mr. Paul Usoro instructed me to transfer the sum of N2.5 million to one, Assam Ekanem, N7.5 million to Taiwo Oyetibo & Co, N7.5 million to Oyechi Ipeaza, N5 million to Uzuegbu Nelson Aju, N30 million to OEB Offiong and N7.5 million to DD Dodo & Co”, she said.
The second prosecution witness, Abdurahman Arabo, an investigator with the EFCC, also narrated how the defendant received N1.1 billion from Akwa-Ibom state government. In his evidence-in-chief, the witness told the court that the defendant could not link the money found in his account to the cases he claimed to be handling in court.
He said: “There was an allegation that the defendant was laundering money for Akwa-Ibom state government and evidence showed that he received about N1 billion between 2015 and 2016 from the government”. Upon cross-examination by Usoro’s lawyer, O. E. B. Effiong (SAN), the witness acknowledged the receipt of a letter from the defendant addressed to the EFCC’s chairman stating details of the job he did for Akwa-Ibom state government and the payments he received.
Further hearing in the trial continues on January 25, 2021. One of the counts in the charge marked; FHC/418C/18 reads: “That you Paul Usoro SAN, Emmanuel Udom (currently constitutionally immune against criminal prosecution), Uwemedimo Thomas Nwoko (still at large), Nsikan Linus Nkan (Commissioner for Finance, Akwa Ibom State) (still at large), Mfon Jacobson Udomah (Accountant General of Akwa Ibom State) (still at large) and Margaret Thompson Ukpe (still at large) sometimes in 2015 in Nigeria, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable court conspired amongst yourselves to commit an offence, to wit, conversion of N1.4 billion, property of government of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria, which sum you reasonably ought to know forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity to wit; criminal breach of trust and thereby committed an offence contrary Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act”.
Ayodele Fayose- N3.3 billion
Another high profile case which also shaped 2020 is the trial of former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Peter Ayodele Fayose and his company, Spotless Limited, over an alleged N3.3 billion fraud.
Fayose’s trial also started de novo before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of a Federal High Court in Lagos after the immediate past Chief Judge, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati, granted a request by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for the transfer of the case from Justice Mojisola Olatoregun (now retired).
In his testimony, EFCC’s first witness, Dr. Lawrence Akande, a former Zonal Head of Zenith Bank Plc. in the South West, narrated how he got a call from Fayose in June 2014 for a business transaction to be carried out in Ondo.
He said he later directed one, Biodun Oshode, who was at the time based in Akure as the Zonal Head to handle the transaction. Akande said: “I knew the first defendant (Fayose). In June 2014, I was called by him that there would be a business transaction on his account and that it would be in Akure.
While being examined by Fayose’s lawyer, Ola Olanipekun (SAN), the witness disclosed that the former governor did not tell him the amount involved in the transaction while speaking to him on phone. The second EFCC’s witness, Dr. Abiodun Oshode, while also testifying narrated how N1.2 billion was moved to the bank’s branch in Akure on behalf of Fayose.
“On 17th June, 2014, my colleague, Lawrence Akande, called me that there are some cash deposits that will be coming to Akure Airport. He said I should organize a bullion van for its evacuation.
“Akande said the customer of the bank who is the signatory to the account of De-Privateer Nigeria Ltd will be coming to meet me in the branch for us to go to the Airport together. I later organized with the Akure Branch Manager, Oluseye Alabi, to arrange for the bullion van,” Oshode said.
The witness said as expected the signatory to the De-Privateer Account, Abiodun Agbele, one, Sadiku and some security officials later showed up and they all went to the Airport together. “The cash was evacuated to the bullion van from the Aircraft for processing.
The money was around N1.2 billion. When we got Akure Branch, I handed over the money to the Branch Manager for processing and three accounts were supplied by Biodun Agbele for lodging the money”, he said. Three other EFCC’s witnesses later testified to corroborate Oshode’s evidence.
At the last hearing of the matter on October 19, 2020, the EFCC called its 8th witness, Ogundein Taiwo Olumide, a Relationship Manager with First Bank of Nigeria Ltd. In his testimony, Olumide narrated how various sums of monies were deposited in four tranches into the account of a company known as Still Earth Ltd, allegedly procured by Fayose to launder money. Further hearing in Fayose’s trial has been adjourned to January 22, 2021.
According to the charge, on 17th June, 2014, Fayose and one, Abiodun Agbele, were said to have taken possession of the sum of N1.2 billion, for purposes of funding his gubernatorial election campaign in Ekiti State, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.
Adeyemi Ikuforiji- N673 million
The outgoing year also witnessed the continuation of the trial of a former Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji and his aide, Oyebode Atoyebi, over alleged N673 million fraud. The duo were on 11th December, 2019, re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before Justice Mohammed Liman of a Federal High Court in Lagos on a 54-count charge bordering on the alleged offence.
In his testimony, EFCC’s first witness, Adebayo Adeniyi, narrated how Ikuforiji allegedly diverted N14.7 million through Oyebode. In his evidence-in-chief, the witness who is an EFCC’s investigator told the court that, in June 2011, a petition was written against the Ikuforiji for allegedly siphoning the sum of N500 million monthly from the Lagos House of Assembly.
He said upon the receipt of the petition, the EFCC commenced investigation and subsequently visited the office of the then Clerk of the House of Assembly in Lagos, where relevant documents were recovered. He added that the Clerk was subsequently invited for questioning.
He said: “We recovered some payment registers and when we went through them, we discovered that a lot of cash payments were made to the second defendant. So, we invited him to explain why the payments were made to him. “He told us that the payments were meant for the first defendant.
When we interrogated the first defendant, he actually confirmed that the second defendant was collecting the monies for him”.
When asked by the EFCC’s lawyer, Ekene Iheanacho, to further narrate his findings from the investigation, the witness told the court that the antigraft agency discovered that a series of cash payments were made to the second defendant, which were above the threshold allowed by the Money Laundering Act.
The witness added that in Exhibit E, which contains the transaction of April 30, 2010, the sum of N3 million was collected by the second defendant on behalf of the first defendant, adding that “On April 27, 2010, N10 million was collected in cash by the second defendant; and on May 6, 2010, the cash sum of N1.7 million was also collected by the second defendant on behalf of the first defendant”.
One of the counts reads: “That you, Rt. Honourable Adeyemi Sabit Ikuforiji and Oyebode Alade Atoyebi, sometime between April 2010 and July 2011 in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable court, conspired among yourselves to do an illegal act to wit: accepting various cash payments amounting in the aggregate to the sum of N338, 801, 442 (Three Hundred and Thirty- Eight Million, Eight Hundred and One Thousand, Four Hundred and Forty Naira only) from the Lagos State House of Assembly without going through a financial institution and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011 and punishable under Section 16 (2) (b) of same Act”.
EFCC’s forfeiture suit against Saraki
Another case that shaped the outgoing year is the suit filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before Justice Mohammed Liman of a Federal High Court in Lagos seeking to forfeit two Lagos property of a former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, to the Federal Government.
Testifying in the matter, an investigator with the EFCC, Olamide Sadik, narrated how Saraki allegedly used state funds to defray the loan he obtained from Guarantee Trust Bank Plc, to purchase the two properties.
While being led in evidence by EFCC’s lawyer, Emeka Omewa, the witness informed the court that sometimes in 2009, his boss, who was the zonal head for the Ilorin zone of the anti-graft agency, asked him to join an ongoing investigation of some property linked to Saraki. He said he immediately commenced work by inviting one,
Bayo Abdulrahaman of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) to produce Saraki’s statement of account. He added that in the course of his interaction with the said Bayo, he was able to retrieve a letter of loan offered Saraki for the purchase of two property from the Presidential Committee on the sales of Government Property.
The witness added that investigations by his team also revealed that the loan was disbursed to the Presidential Committee on Sales of Government Property with drafts issued to the Committee. He further informed the court that apart from his investigative activities with GTB, he also had an interface with the cashier of Kwara State Government House, Hafeez Yusuf.
Sadik added that his investigation and interaction with Yusuf revealed that one, Abdul Adama, a domestic servant to Saraki, usually and constantly withdraw cash from Government House and pay to Saraki’s account with GTB, while the funds are in turn used to repay the loan obtained from GTB.
The witness also told the court that several lodgements of funds were made into the account with ‘fictitious names’ which were untraceable while some were done with a single name. He said: “EFCC’s investigation also revealed that Adama was collecting an average of N100 million monthly and depositing same to Saraki’s personal account which was eventually used to repay the loans obtained from GTB to purchase the property in Lagos.
“To beat the anti-money laundering Act, the money was deliberately being structured and this led the bank to write the Financial Intelligent Unit (FIU) complaining about the way money are being paid into the account.
“The summary of our investigation is that Dr. Bukola Saraki obtained loan from GTB to buy the property, but repaid the loan from money being collected by Abdul Adama, his domestic aide and other unidentified people to repay the loan”. Further hearing in the suit has been adjourned to January 11, 2021.
Atiku’s lawyer, brother- $2million
The trial of Uyiekpen Giwa-Osagie, a lawyer to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, for alleged money laundering also continued in the course of outgoing year. Uyiekpen is standing trial alongside his brother, Erhunse, before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of a Federal High Court in Lagos for allegedly laundering $2 million. At the last hearing of the matter, the EFCC called its second witness, Shuaibu Shehu, one of its investigators, to testify in the matter.
While being led in evidence by the EFCC’s lawyer, Kufre Uduak, the witness narrated how his team conducted an investigation based on an intelligence received sometimes in 2019 that some politicians were moving around with Dollars to influence the result of the last general election.
He said: “Based on this intelligence, my team conducted investigations and recovered the sum of $1.459 million and N50 million in cash. It was also revealed that the sum of $1.6 million was given to one, Alhaji Lawan Abdullahi, a Bureau De Change Operator (BDC).
“It was also discovered that the money came from a company called Guensey Trust Nigeria Limited controlled by the first defendant in trust for Atiku Abubakar. “Guensey Trust received into its own account the sum of £26 million (Twenty-Six Million Euros) from a foreign company, Intel West Africa.
The money was then converted into Dollars, which was $30 million. “Guensey Trust transferred the sum of $5 million into Andrew Pitchford, a company owned by the 2nd defendant (Erhunse) and was converted into Naira through a BDC Company.
The 2nd defendant was also instructed by the 1st defendant (Uyiekpen) to raise the sum of $2 million for someone, whom we later found out to be a security guard to Atiku Abubakar.
“Ourfindingsrevealedthatthefirstdefendant received the instruction from the former VicePresident, Atiku Abubakar to hand over the money to the said person.” Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned to January 13, 2021. The defendants are standing trial on a three-count charge bordering on alleged money laundering to the tune of $2 million.
One of the counts reads: “That you, Uyiekpen Glwa-Osagie and Erhunse Giwa-Osagie, sometimes in February 2019, in Nigeria, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court conspired to commit an offence to wit: making cash payment of the sum of $2,000,000.00 (Two Million United States Dollars) without going through financial institution, which sum exceeded the amount authorized by Law; and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a), and 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under Section 16(2)(b) of the same Act.”
Hearing in the trial of a suspected internet fraudster, Ismaila Mustapha, also known as Mompha, currently standing trial over alleged N33billion fraud at a Federal High Court in Lagos also continued in the course of the outgoing year.
Mompha was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before Justice Mohammed Liman on a 22-count charge bordering on fraud, money laundering and running a foreign exchange business without the authorisation of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The defendant is expected to open his defence on March 10, 2021, following the dismissal of his no-case motion by the trial judge. Mompha had filed a no-case motion when the EFCC closed its case after calling 10 witnesses. In the motion, he maintained that he has no case to answer as the prosecution has failed to link him to any of the counts.
The EFCC was however opposed to the motion. The anti-graft agency insisted that it had successfully proved its case against Mompha and that he should be called upon by the court to open his defence. In his ruling on a no-case motion, Justice Liman held that the defendants indeed has a case to answer going by the preponderance of evidence provided by the prosecution.
The judge held: “From the totality of the evidence and testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, the court is convinced that the prosecution has established a prima-facie case against the defendants which would warrant the defendants to give explanation.
“From the evidence before the court given by the prosecution witnesses on various counts of the charge, a primafacie case has been established by the prosecution against the defendants.
“The 1st defendant has explanations to make on issues of retention of funds in Islamob account, money laundering, dealing in foreign exchange without authorization from the Central Bank of Nigeria and declaration of false audit report.
“The no-case motion thus failed and is hereby dismissed. I therefore called on Mustapha and his co- defendant to open their defence.”
In the 22-count charge, EFCC alleged that Mompha laundered N33 billion through a firm, Ismalob Global Investment Ltd (the second defendant) between 2015 and 2018.