N8.5bn fraud: Absence of judge stalls trial of Atewe, Akpobolokemi, others

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The ongoing trial of the former Commander of the Military Joint Task Force (MJTF), Operation Pulo Shield, in the Niger Delta, retired Major General Emmanuel Atewe alongside others before a Federal High Court in Lagos was stalled today (Tuesday) due to the absence of the trial judge, Justice A.O Faji.

No reason was however stated for the judge’s absence.

As of the time of filing this report, no new date has been picked by counsels in the matter for continuation of trial on the case.

This is because there were arguments amongst counsels involved in the case, especially the prosecution that a date in June may not go down well since the case involved is criminal in nature.

Meanwhile, at the last hearing on the case, a witness brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and an Abuja based businessman, Nkem Ahidjo, informed the judge as to how a sum to the tune of N35 million out of the N8.5 billion, allegedly diverted by Atewe was paid to the Living Faith Church, eminently known as Winners’ Chapel.

In his testimony before the court, Ahidjo argued that he met Atewe who was re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on a 22 counts charge of fraud to the tune of N8.5 billion, at the Villa Church in Abuja, where both of them worshiped as at the time Atewe was a Guard Commander.

Ahidjo further posited that as a Pentecostal, he also attended Living Faith Church, and Atewe equally worshiped therein.

The businessman said, “He invited me to Bayelsa and I went. He told me that the Federal Government gave JTF a grant for security and building of barracks and if I have any company into which account money could be paid.

“And being somebody I knew very well from Guard Commander to Major General, I provided the companies that I listed earlier.
“On a second invitation and visit to Atewe in Bayelsa, Atewe told me that three payments were about to be made into my accounts and as soon as they were made i should acknowledge the payments and await further instructions.

“Within two to three days of the meeting, i started receiving the payments and accordingly informed Atewe, who asked me to hold on till he (Atewe) returned to Abuja.

“Upon Atewe’s return to Abuja, I was invited to his office at Niger Barracks in Abuja, where he introduced, Engozu, who is the 3rd defendant, as the person that would take delivery of the money.

“In view of the volume of the monies, Engozu advised me to change the money from naira to dollar before delivery, and he accordingly contacted a Bureau de Change operator, named only as Jimoh.

“Each time I received it (money), I would call a BDC operator, named Jimoh.

“I knew him before this time.

“He would change the money, I would pay him the naira equivalent and take the dollars.

“Once I changed it, I would wait for instruction either from Major General Atewe or Mr. Kime.

“That was what we continued to do until the end of the transaction in 2015.”

According to Ahidjo, “I received a total of N4,915,163,103 within the period, out of which about N4.1bn were converted to dollars and delivered to Engozu, who in turn issued a receipt for each payment based on Atewe’s instruction.

“Of the remaining amount, i was instructed by Atewe to transfer N35m to Winners’ Chapel; N103m to INP Ltd; N170m to First Investment Ltd; N99m to Lord Fem Ltd; N88m to Ocean Gas and N297m to Cisco Nobot.”

But when asked by the prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo as to the intention of the transfer to Living Faith Church, Ahidjo responded, “I don’t know what it was for; it was on the instruction of Major General Atewe.

“All these monies, I don’t question what they were meant for. It is not my money, so I can’t question what it was for.

“Major General Atewe asked me to act on instruction.”

Aside Atewe, joined as defendants in the charge includes: former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi; Kime Engozu and Josephine Otuaga.

Specifically, the anti-graft agency accused them of conspiracy to divert N8.5 billion from Operation Pulo Shield between September 5, 2014, and May 20, 2015, using six companies.

The affected companies are: Jagan Ltd; Jagan Trading Company Ltd; Jagan Global Services Ltd; Al-Nald Ltd; Paper Warehouse Ltd; Eastpoint Integrated Services Ltd and De-Newlink Integrated Services Ltd.

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