The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Wednesday called its first witness in the restarted trial of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, and six others accused of N544m grass-cutting contract fraud.
A relationship manager in the Sales Department of the Wuse Zone 4, Abuja branch of the First City Monument Bank (FCMB), Mohammed Babasule, tendered the statement of account and account opening documents of one of the companies standing trial along with Mr Lawal and the other defendants on Wednesday.
The trial began afresh before Charles Agbaza, the judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Jabi, Abuja, who recently took charge of the case following the demise of the former trial judge, Jude Okeke.
EFCC had presented some witnesses and tendered documentary exhibits before Mr Okeke died on August 4, 2020.
The defendants comprising, Mr Lawal, his younger brother, Hamidu Lawal, Suleiman Abubakar, Monday Apeh, and two companies – Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd – were then re-arraigned before Mr Agbaza on November 30, 2020.
In the amended 10 counts, the prosecution accused them of criminal conspiracy, fraud, and diversion of over N544m belonging to the Federal Government, offences which the anti-graft agency said the defendants committed during Mr Lawal’s time as the SGF.
They were accused of fraudulently converting the N544million proceeds of the grass-cutting contracts which Mr Lawal, as then SGF, allegedly awarded to the companies in which he had interests.
Mr Lawal, the first SGF appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari, was removed from office because of the scandal in 2017.
He and other defendants had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
On Wednesday, the first prosecution witness, Mr Babasule, told the new judge, Mr Agbaza, that he was in 2018 assigned the responsibility of managing the FCMB account of Josmon Technologies Ltd (one of the defendants).
The witness, who was led in evidence by the prosecuting counsel, Offem Uket, tendered some documents relating to the company’s account in evidence.
The judge admitted and marked the documents as exhibits.
Among the documents was the company’s statement of account, and account opening documents which included photocopies of the passport of Monday Apeh (one of the defendants), and an electricity bill issued by Abuja Electricity Distribution Company (AEDC).
Also, part of the documents was the company’s board resolution, two of its letters, its memorandum of association, certificate of incorporation, and receipt of corporate tax payment.
Asked by the prosecuting counsel, Mr Babasule said the documents showed that Mr Apeh (one of the defendants) was the sole signatory to the account.
The witness was subsequently cross-examined by the defence lawyers comprising, Olumide Olujimi, John Itodo, Napoleon Idenala, Ocholi Okutepa, and Marcel Oru.
Fielding questions from the defence lawyers, Mr Babasule confirmed that the company’s account had become inactive for about one year before it was assigned to him as its relationship manager in 2018.
He said it was not part of his work to make any entry into the statement of account and that he knew nothing about the transactions contained in it.
He also agreed that it was not unusual to have inflow and outflow on corporate accounts, adding that there was no cause for FCMB to ever report “any unusual transaction on this account to the EFCC”.
But he stuck to his claim that the inflows on the account “came from the presidency” as he earlier stated in his statement which he made to the EFCC on November 16, 2020.
Asked to give the basis for his claim, Mr Babasule said, “As a banker, when I go through a statement, I can say some things about the transaction.
“From the bank statement, you can see the narration line-by-line as to what the transaction is all about.”
He, however, said he neither confronted the company or any of its officials with the claim.
He confirmed that his statement to the EFCC was only made in November 2020 long after the defendants were put on trial in February 2019.
The court adjourned till Thursday for the continuation of trial.