The Defence on Friday, led evidence before a Federal High Court Lagos, to open its case in a trial-within-trial of a former acting NIMASA DG, Haruna Jauro, charged with N304.1 million fraud.
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.
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.
Two adjournments ago in February, the prosecutor Mr Rotimi Oyedepo had called its first witness, Mr. Orji Chukwuma, who had testified how several sums of monies were allegedly converted by the accused.
Oyedepo had then sought to tender a written statement of the accused as evidence in court, but his moved was opposed 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 determine if the statements were voluntarily obtained by the commission.
The trial judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun had consequently, ordered a trial-within-trial.
At the last adjourned date on Feb. 21, the prosecution had led it’s evidence in the trial-within-trial, and had exhibited electronic evidence via a DVD digital videos recording, on how the first accused volunteered statements to the commission.
When trial resumed on Friday, Oyedepo rounded up the testimony of the third prosecution witness, Mr. Chukwuma Orji, an investigating officer with the EFCC, who he had called to witness in the trial within trial.
The witness, told the court that the statement of the first accused was obtained by one Akeem Lasisi after the accused was brought to him by one Idris.
He said that from the red biro endorsement on the case file bearing the statement of the accused, he could deduce that the statements were volunteered.
After the evidence of the prosecution witness, counsel to the first accused, Mr Olaleka Ojo, commenced cross examination during which he posed the following questions: “How many times did you and your team visit NIMASA in 2015, and were you part of the investigating team that paid that first visit to Agency?”
The witness responded: “investigation is operational so I cannot remember how many times we paid such visit or whether I was part of the first visit; all I know is that we visited the agency more than once”.
He also told the court that he could not remember any member of the team who paid the first visit.
Responding Ojo suggested: “Since you cannot remember if you were part of the first visit, then it is clear that you also cannot remember all that transpired in that visit.
“I therefore, put it to you that operatives of the EFCC clearly told the first accused that he would be “nailed” and treated like his predecessor, (Akpobolokemi) if he did not cooperate.
“I also put it to you that your team that visited the agency the first and second time, also told the first accused that he would be made a prosecution witness, in order to escape “nailing”.
In response, Orji replied: “That is not correct,”
Again, defence counsel enquired from the witness, where the first statement of the accused obtained on Oct. 12, 2015, was made, and the witness replied that the statement was volunteered by the accused at the NIMASA office.
Ojo then queried: “is NIMASA an extension of the EFCC? If you obtained at NIMASA, will it then be right to say that such statement was obtained at the EFCC?
In response, Orji clarified: “No, but I can take a statement anywhere, and we indicate the location as EFCC Lagos, since there is no column for stating such elongated locations.”
Defence counsel also asked the witness “Do you know one Mr. Dankuku Galadima? The witness replied in the affirmative, adding that he Galadima was lawyer to the first accused.
Ojo again suggested: “I put it to you that Galadima was never present during the collection of the accused’s statement” in response, the witness replied, “That is not correct, the accused always came to the commission in company of his lawyer or any other person.”
Defence counsel asked again: “Do you remember that your team threatened to lock up the lawyer for defending his client and also insulted and called him names?
In response the witness exclaimed: “Hey! That has never happened”
Furthermore, Ojo queried “Are you aware that Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo (prosecutor) visited the accused in his NIMASA office? Is he also part of the investigating team?”
The witness replied: “Oyedepo is legal attaché, who gives legal advice to the team; he goes with us sometimes if there are legal implications.”
After cross examination, Oyedepo re-examined the witness on the issue of his appearance or visit at the NIMASA office, but the trial judge read out what she had recorded from the witness’ evidence, adding that he had made explanations on the issue.
Oyedepo then informed the court that he had closed the case for the prosecution in the trial-within-trial.
Correspondingly, defence counsel informed the court that he had all his subpoenaed witnesses present in court and was prepared to open his case, adding that one of the witness was from far away Jos.
Judge: “let’s take one of your witness, especially considering distance,”
In light of the above, Mr Dankuku Galadim mounted the witness box as first defence witness, and introduced himself as a legal practitioner of 10 years standing.”
He told the court that the first accused approached him sometime in 2016, seeking his legal assistance in relation to his investigation by the EFCC
He told the court that he had informed the accused that he was unavailable at the moment, as he was handling the brief of a former chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Amosu.
He said that he however, assisted the accused in securing the legal representation of one Peter Achuneni, who accompanied the accused to the commission
An attempt by defence counsel to extract evidence on the feedback by Achuneni to Galadima, was opposed by the prosecution, who argued that such practice was alien as it would amount to a hearsay evidence.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun will resume trial-within-trial on March 13.
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.