A Federal High Court sitting in , Lagos, on Thursday admitted in evidence, the list of beneficiaries of a sum of $115, 010,000 (One hundred and fifteen million, ten thousand dollars) from the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa in his ruling on the objection raised by O. Ayanlaja (SAN), counsel to the former Minister of National Planning, Professor Abubakar Sulaiman, who is being tried alongside governorship aspirant in Kwara State, Mohammed Dele Belgore (SAN), concerning the admissibility of the list of beneficiaries, the judge agreed with the arguments of counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) , Rotimi Oyedepo, and held that the prosecution has complied substantially with the provisions of section 84 of the Evidence Act.
Justice Aikawa added that the fact that the document was produced by a computer through an email address of a staff in the course of carrying out an official assignment does not in any way invalidate the tendering of the list of beneficiaries before the court.
According to the judge, “What the Evidence Act intends to do is to simplify and not to complicate the process of admitting documents in court.
” Any officer of the financial institution is competent to tender the document even if he is not the maker of the said document.
“The document and its attachment are one and same is admissible and can be tendered by the PW1.”
However, and shortly after the ruling, Belgore’s counsel, Ebun Shofunde (SAN) commenced the cross-examination of the first prosecution witness, Timothy Olaobaju, who confirmed before the court that he volunteered a statement to the EFCC on January 9, 2017 wherein the witness stated that he did not mention Alison-Madueke in his statement to the anti-graft agency.
But as Olaobaju was about to give further explanations as to why Alison-Madueke’s name was not mentioned in his statement, the defence lawyers promptly interjected and insisted that the further explanation was not needed.
Justice Aikawa was then urged by Shofunde to adjourn the matter so as to enable the prosecution produce the said statement made by the witness.
Consequently, the judge adjourned until May 2, 2017 for the EFCC to make available the said statement.
It would be recalled that the EFFC had notified Justice Aikawa that Alison-Madueke had questions to answer in the ongoing trial of Belgore, and the former Minister of National Planning, Professor Abubakar Sulaiman, over their involvement in scam to the tune of N450 million.
Specifically, Belgore’s counsel, Ebun Shofunde (SAN) had during proceedings insisted before the judge that the list sought to be tendered emanated from the mail box of the maker.
He called the attention of Justice Aikawa to Section 84 of the Evidence Act, which according to the SAN, governs documents made from computers.
According to Shofunde, “The document sought to be tendered has not met with the conditions made out in Section 84 of the Evidence Act.
“The certificate itself was not made by the witness and that makes it more yahoo, yahoo and I urge your lordship to rejection same.”
In his objection, counsel to the anti-graft agency argued that there is a certificate attached to the document sought to be tendered to authenticate same.
The EFCC lawyer said, “The document was identified by the witness as the list containing names of beneficiaries, and the transactions carried out by the financial institution.
“It is not the spirit of Section 84 (2) of the Evidence Act, that the a certifying officer who is merely to confirm the functionality or otherwise of the devices used in printing out the document so as to come and give evidence.
“Substantially, we have complied with provisions of Section 84 of the Evidence Act.
“The certifying officer had confirmed that the document was printed in the ordinary course of business of the financial institution.
“He also certified that the list was produced by the computer owned by the financial institution.
“Throughout the period the document was printed, the computer used in printing the document was functioning properly.
“There is no contrary evidence to controvert this certification. The witness can validly tender the document he has identified forms part of the transactions.
“It is an exception that a document must be tendered by its maker where the document emanates.”
Prior to this time, the EFCC lawyer had sought the leave of Justice Aikawa to reopen the evidence in chief of its witness, Timothy Olaobaju, so as to further examine him on the document.
While being led in evidence, Olaobaju insisted that the sum was offloaded to the loading bay for the beneficiaries to take possession.
According to the witness, “The money was counted by way of bundle counting, and they were in N1000 and N500 denominations.
“The money was kept overnight with the financial institution and in the vaults.
“That very day, before the beneficiaries came, we had already stacked the money for them to pick.
“But there was a delay because the minister refused to show his identity card.
“The beneficiaries said they could not carry the money that night because it was late.
“It is not true that none of the beneficiaries collected a dime.”
Belgore and Sulaiman were re-arraigned on an amended five counts, wherein the name of the former Petroleum Minister was clearly mentioned.
According to the amended charge, on or about March 27, 2015, Alison-Madueke was accused of conspiring with Belgore and Sulaiman to directly take possession of the sum of N450 million, which they reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful act.
They were equally said to have taken the said funds in cash, which exceeded the amount authorized by law, without going through any financial institution.
Belgore and the former Minister of National Planning were accused of paying a sum to the tune of N50 million to one Sheriff Shagaya, without going through financial institutions.
The Commission however insisted that the offences contravenes sections 18 (a)15 (2) (d), 1 (a), 16 (d) and punishable under sections 15 (3) and 4, 16 (2) (b), and 16 (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.
Shortly after the plea of the defendants were taken, the witness brought by the EFCC, Olaobaju argued that sometime in April 2014, his Managing Director (MD), gave them directives that certain individuals and companies will be sending money into some account, and that the purpose of such monies was not made known.
The witness further told Justice Aikawa that over the period, the monies which amounted to $115,010, million USD, were paid into the account.
Olaobaju who is a banker also contended before the court that in March 27, 2015, an instruction came from the former Petroleum Minister to the bank that the monies which were in USD be converted to Naira and that same should be paid to some beneficiaries which included Belgore (SAN) and Prof. Sulaiman.
While confirming that the instructions were fully complied with, the banker insisted that both Belgore (SAN) and Sulaiman, who are not customers to the bank received the sum of N450 million and filled the receipt of payment form to acknowledge receipt.
The court then admitted the form filled by the defendants as exhibits 1 and 1a.
In further testifying, Olaobaju informed Justice Aikawa that no cheque was issued in effecting the release of the said sum, adding that the defendants signed the form on March 26, 2015 and collected the money on March 27, 2015.
But counsels to the defendants which included: B. O. Shofunde, Charles Edosanwa, Seni Adio, and lawyer to Sulaiman, Chief O Ayanlaja, Ladi Rotimi-Williams, and Olatunde Busari, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), pleaded with the court for adjournment for the cross-examination of the witness.