14th March, 2017
A Federal High Court in Lagos has fixed March 23 to rule on the admissibility of a list of beneficiaries of funds in the ongoing trial of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dele Belgore charged with money laundering.
Belgore is charged alongside a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman and a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, who is said to be at large.
They were first arraigned in February but were subsequently re-arraigned on March 13, following the amendment of the charges to include the name of Allison-Madueke.
They had pleaded not guilty to the charges and were allowed to continue on their earlier bail terms.
At the last adjourned date, March 13, a first prosecution witness, Mr Timothy Olaobaju, was led in evidence by the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo.
He had told the court that Belgore and Sulaiman were among the beneficiaries of the sum of 115 million dollars deposited in the account of Allison-Madueke.
The witness told the court that Belgore and Sulaiman jointly received N450million on March 27, 2015.
When trial resumed on Tuesday, the prosecution sought to tender in evidence, a document containing a comprehensive list of beneficiaries of Diezani’s funds in the 36 states of the federation.
This move by prosecution was however opposed by Sulaiman’s counsel, Mr Olatunji Ayanlaja (SAN), who argued that the document did not comply with the provisions of Section 84 of the Evidence Act.
He urged the court to reject same.
In response, the prosecution maintained that the document had substantially satisfied the conditions spelt out in Section 84 of the Evidence Act, and urged the court to admit it.
After entertaining arguments from both parties, Justice Aikawa deferred his ruling till March 23.
Meanwhile, the defence counsel commenced cross-examination of the first prosecution witness.
Under cross-examination by Belgore’s lawyer, Chief Ebun Shofunde (SAN), the witness said that the N450million received by Belgore and Sulaiman was brought in a bullion van from the CBN.
On the denomination of the currencies, the witness replied, “I can’t remember vividly but I remember there were N1,000 and N500 bills.’’
He said that the money was offloaded from the bullion van into the bank’s loading bay where it was manually counted.
When Shofunde suggested to him that it took two days to count the money, the witness disagreed, saying as a professional banker “I can count N1 billion in 20 minutes.”
The witness said that although the bank was ready to deliver the money to Belgore and Sulaiman on March 26, 2015 when it arrived from the CBN, the process was delayed by failure of Sulaiman to release his Identification Card.
He added that the transaction was captured on the CCTV camera mounted in the bank.
Shofunde said, “I suggest to you that none of the defendants collected one kobo out of the N450 million,” the witness answered, “that is not true”.
Shofunde suggested to him that it was different individuals that came to the bank on March 27, 2015 to sign and collect portions of the N450 million, the witness also retorted: “That is not true”.
In the charge, Sulaiman, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Abuja, and Belgore, a former governorship aspirant in Kwara, were accused of conspiracy to commit the offence on March 27, 2015.
They were accused of making cash transaction of N450 million on March 27, 2015 without going through any financial institution.
The EFCC claimed that the accused paid N50 million to one Sheriff Shagaya.
The EFCC said the cash sum was above the lawful threshold permitted by the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act.
The court will again resume proceedings on March 23.