Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, on Wednesday, November 1, 2017, dismissed an application by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, seeking to be joined as a defendant in a N450m fraud case.
Alison-Madueke, who is currently in London where she is being investigated for money laundering, had in the application, sought an opportunity to defend the allegations in a charge filed against her, Mohammed Belgore, SAN, and a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Belgore, a governorship candidate during the 2011 Kwara State gubernatorial election, is standing trial alongside Sulaiman for allegedly receiving the sum of N450m on March 27, 2015 out of the $115,010,000 paid into a new generation bank by Alison-Madueke.
At the last adjourned sitting on Monday, October 30, 2017, her lawyer, Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN, had pleaded with the court to allow her to defend herself in four of the counts in the interest of justice and fair hearing.
Ikpeazu had submitted that the prosecution should remove his client’s name from the charge, if it would not give her an opportunity to defend herself by listing her as a defendant.
However, in his response, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, had opposed the application, saying that it was an abuse of court process.
Oyedepo further stated that it would be unfair to the prosecution if a defendant was added at this stage in the trial, which would force the trial to start de novo.
Also, counsel to the first defendant, Ebun Shofunde, SAN, had told the court that the applicant was not a necessary party to the case.
In his ruling on the application, Justice Aikawa, described the application as “bizarre and a misuse of court processes.”
The judge also rejected all the other prayers by Diezani, including an order mandating the Attorney-General of the Federation to facilitate her return to Nigeria, adding that “I won’t allow myself to be used to frustrate the applicant’s impending trial in the United Kingdom.”
Also, Justice Aiwaka admitted as evidence a document containing the e-mail trail between the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank and Ugonna Madueke, a son to the former Petroleum Minister.
The document tagged exhibit 10, among others, contains a list of the names of people who benefitted from the $115,010,000 paid into the Bank by Allison-Madueke.
At the sitting on Tuesday, October 3, 2017, the prosecution had sought to tender the document, but the defence objected to its admissibility.
Shofunde, SAN, had objected to the admissibility of the certificate of identification as well as the attached documents on the grounds that they failed to comply with the Section 84 of the Evidence Act.
Shofunde had also said that the verification of the certificate, which is a condition precedent to the admissibility of the attachments, could only be done either by an expert or a witness who is familiar with the use of the computer.
Also, counsel to the second defendant, Tunji Ayanlaja, SAN, had also adopted the submissions of Shofunde.
In his response, Oyedepo, who replied on point of law, had said the objection raised by the defence was misconstrued.
“The opening paragraph of the certificate itself speaks volumes of the manner in which the documents we are seeking to tender was generated.
“I submit that paragraphs 1 and 2 substantially comply with the Section 84 (2b) of the Evidence Act, as the certificate clearly certifies that the documents were supplied to the computer in the ordinary course of the activities of the bank and that the computer was used regularly to store or process information’, he said.
However, in his response to the submission by the prosecution counsel, Shofunde had said that there must be evidence of the person who signed the document before the court.
The prosecution counsel had further faulted the argument by counsel to the first defendant that the witness could not give direct oral evidence in the matter.
“The document referred to in Section 84(1) is not the certificate itself, but the document intended to be tendered, which is the extracts of the email.”
Oyedepo, had, therefore, urged to either accept the certificate or call for oral evidence by the certifying officer.
Oyedepo had also said that procedural irregularity shouldn’t lead to total rejection of the document, adding that “In the event that my Lord says that there is no proper certification, I urge your Lordship not to reject the document but to direct the prosecution to properly certify the document.”
In his ruling on the document, Justice Aikawa said: “I am persuaded by the prosecution’s argument that the witness can tender the document found by him in the course of investigation.
“I agree that substantial compliance was met, contrary to the argument by the defence counsel.
“The document is relevant and in compliance with Section 84 (1), 84 (2b), 84(2d), 84(4b) of the Evidence Act.
“I hereby overrule the objection of the counsels to the first and second defendants and admit the document as exhibit 10.”
While giving further evidence, prosecution witness, Usman Zakari, explained that the names of both defendants were on the list and that they both benefitted the sum of N450m.
Led in evidence by Oyedepo, Zakari added that the defendants received the money from Fidelity Bank, Ilorin Road branch, Kwara State.
When asked if he confronted the defendants with his findings about the N450million, he said the defendants admitted to have received the money.
The witness said the defendants did not tender any cheques to Fidelity or any financial institution to receive the payment of the sum of N450m.
Zakari also told the court that a businesswoman, Bola Shagaya, was included in the list.
He, however, said that Shagaya did not sign for the sum of money written against her name in the list.
The witness added that the first defendant gave the sum of N50m in cash to one Sheriff Shagaya without going through any financial institution.
Thereafter, counsel to the first defendant brought an application for the release of the international passport of his client to enable him attend a conference slated for November 14, 2017 in Ghana.
Though the prosecution did not oppose the application, he urged the court to ensure that the defendant, who was granted bail on self-recognition, returns to continue with his trial.
The judge, while granting the application, ordered the defendant to write an undertaking that he would not jump bail.
Justice Aikawa also directed the court registrar to release the international passport to the first defendant.
The judge further directed that the first defendant must return the passport to the court registrar on or before November 22, 2017.
Justice Aikawa adjourned the case to November 13 and 14, 2017 for continuation of trial.
The EFCC has also closed its case against Mansur Ali Mashi, a member of the House of Representatives, representing Mashi Dutsi Federal Constituency of Katsina State and a former bank manager, Zainab Rufai Yusuf.
The duo was arraigned by the Commission for allegedly conspiring and fraudulently embezzling the sum of N35, 000,000 (Thirty Five Million Naira ) from First City Monument Bank where the first defendant Zainab Rufai formerly worked as branch manager.
The fraud was perpetrated through fraudulent account opening. It was alleged that at least 35 accounts were opened in the name of different customers without their knowledge. When the purported account owners were invited to the Commission, they revealed that the second defendant, Mansur, only collected their passport photographs on the pretext that he would give them big jobs or secure loan facility for them. After the accounts were opened, the first defendant funded each account with the sum of N1, 000,000 (One Million Naira Each) totaling N35, 000,000 (Thirty Five Million Naira Only). This was further confirmed by the investigation officer, Mamman Nasir during cross examination.
The witness was led in evidence by the prosecution counsel Nasiru Salele to conclude his testimony which began on September 15, 2016.
During cross examination, the witness contradicted the claim by the counsel representing the first defendant that his client was detained by the EFCC. Nasir said the first defendant was never detained at the instance of the Commission. He also confirmed that the first defendant initially presented herself as a complainant in the matter but investigation later revealed that she was in connivance with the second defendant.
While the investigation was on going, the first defendant was discovered to have refunded the sum of N14, 000,000 (Fourteen Million Naira Only) to the bank while the second defendant refunded N10, 000,000 (Ten Million Naira Only).
The case has been adjourned to December 14, 2017 for adoption of no case submission by the defendants.