A Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday, began trial within trial to test the voluntariness of statements obtained from a former acting Director General of NIMASA, Haruna Jauro, facing N304.1 million fraud charges.
Jauro, who assumed leadership of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), is charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He is standing trial alongside Dauda Bawa and Thlumbau Enterprises Ltd on 19 counts bordering on the offences.
They were arraigned on April 12, 2016 and had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The court had admitted them to bail in the sum of N5 million each with two sureties each in like sum.
At the last adjourned date, the prosecutor Mr Rotimi Oyedepo had called it’s first witness, Mr Orji Chukwuma, who testified before the court how several sums of monies were converted by the accused.
Oyedepo had sought to tender the written statement of the accused as evidence in court, but his moved was objected to by defence counsel, Mr Olalekan Ojo, who argued that the said statements were not voluntarily obtained.
Ojo had urged the court to order a trial-within-trial, to ascertain if the statements were voluntarily obtained by the commission.
The trial judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun had accordingly adjourned the case for a trial-within-trial.
When the case was called on Tuesday, the prosecutor commenced the trial-within-trial and called on its first witness, Mr Augustine Anosike, who is head of forensic at the EFCC.
The witness informed the court that he personally took down video coverage of the endorsement of the statement of the first accused.
He said that his statement was endorsed at the EFCC on March 30, 2016, at about 14; 50 hours, by one Mr Akeem Lasisi who an operative of the commission.
The prosecutor then applied for a video tape showing the endorsement of the statement of the accused to be played in the open court.
A video tape was then played out in the court with the aid of a projector, showing how the statement of the accused was endorsed by the EFCC operative (Lasisi).
After the video which lasted for about 35 minutes, the defence counsel (Ojo) began his cross examination, and asked the witness whether he was present in the room at the time the statement of the accused was endorsed.
In response, the witness told the court that he personally video-recorded the endorsement process, adding that there was no demarcation in the room where the statement was endorsed.
The witness also agreed with the observation of defence counsel, that the video recording did not disclose the date of the endorsement as well as the commencement and termination time of same.
On the questions whether the accused was informed that the endorsement process will be video recorded, and whether the recording was edited, the witness answered that it was not shown that the accused was so informed and added that the video was not edited.
Defence counsel then asked the witness to state the process and duration of the recording, as well as to inform the court of his qualification in doing same.
In response, the witness told the court that the video recording took place on March 31, 2016, using a DV mini digital video cassette, which was eventually burn into a DVD, adding that same was handed over to the commission on Feb. 14 (this year).
On his qualifications, the witness told the court that he was trained by a group from Netherlands in digital forensic, and also obtained a training from Sweden in mobile phone forensic.
He also informed the court that he holds a certificate in Cinematography.
On whether the video recording depicted the circumstances under which it was done, and whether it showed the interaction of the accused with the commission, the witness answered in the negative.
On his part Mr Akeem Lasisi who was called as second witness in the trial-within-trial
He agreed that he was not part of the investigation team
On the question how many statement of the accused was found, he said he did not count the statement of the accused in the case file.
He told the court that he had not viewed the recorded version of the endorsement exercise before now, adding that he saw the video for the first time in court.
He also said he could not remember seeing any time duration in the video recording.
On whether he was aware that the EFCC first visited the accused in his NIMASA office, the witness replied in the negative.
On whether he is conversant with the video recording process of statements of accused, he told the court that he was not in the know, as same was transmitted to the photographic unit.
After listening to the witness, the court further adjourned the case to March 3 for continuation and urged the defence to be prepared with his witnesses.
The EFCC accused Jauro and others of conspiring among themselves to defraud NIMASA to the tune of N304.1m between January 2014 and September 2015.
The anti-graft agency alleged that the accused converted the sums to their private use, an offence which it said contravened the provisions of section 15(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.