Justice R.M. Aikawa of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, on Thursday admitted as evidence a document containing the list of alleged beneficiaries of $115 million tendered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, against Muhammed Belgore, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and Abubakar Sulaiman, a former Minister of National Planning, who are being prosecuted on a five-count charge of money laundering.
Messrs. Belgore and Sulaiman had allegedly jointly received N450 million on March 27, 2015 out of the $115,010,000 paid into Fidelity Bank Plc by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke.
At the last adjourned sitting on March 14, 2017, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, had sought to tender the list of the beneficiaries of the alleged $115,010,000 along with the attached Certificate of Identification issued; but Olatunji Ayanlaja, counsel to the second defendant, Mr. Sulaiman, objected to its admissibility.
Mr. Ayanlaja had argued that the document did not meet the provisions of the Section 84 (2) of the Evidence Act, adding that “This document shows that it was printed from the mailbox of one Nnamdi@yahoo.com. But the Certificate of Identification was not made by the PW1; so, the PW1 cannot give evidence of the document being sought to be tendered.’’
However, Mr. Oyedepo told the court that there was a certificate from Fidelity Bank Plc bearing the authenticity of the document and that it was signed by one Bayo Ogunmolade, Chief Compliance Officer, Fidelity Bank Plc.
He further told the court that the prosecution witness, PW1, Timothy Olaobaju, a staff of Fidelity Bank Plc, could validly tender the document ‘‘forming part of the banking transactions.’’
Mr. Oyedepo, who pleaded with the court that the document was extremely relevant to the fact in issue, added that “The document was identified by PW1 as the list of beneficiaries of the transactions his bank handled. It is not in the spirit of Section 84(2) of the Evidence Act that the certifying officer, who is merely to confirm the functionality or otherwise of the devices used in printing the document to give evidence. Substantially, the prosecution has complied with the provision of Section 84.’’
Consequently, Justice Aikawa had adjourned to today for ruling on the admissibility or otherwise of the document.
In his ruling today, Justice Aikawa said that the prosecution fully complied with the provisions of Section 84 of the Evidence Act.
The judge also ruled that the document is an ordinary document, which would be admitted without its strict compliance to Section 84.
The document was tendered and admitted as Exhibit 3.
Meanwhile, when E.O. Shofunde, counsel to the first defendant, Mr. Belgore, asked Mr. Olaobaju if he received instruction to pay the alleged beneficiaries of the $115 million from the bank’s managing director, he said: “I received instruction that some persons would come to receive money via a phone call, but the exact amount to be paid was received via a mail.
“I did not state in my statement to the EFCC on January 9, 2017 that I received the instruction from my Managing Director. I wrote that I received the instruction from the Divisional Head of Operations.’’
When Shofunde suggested that the money couldn’t have been moved from the vault and counted in 20 minutes, he responded that it was possible for him to do the counting within 20 minutes as a professional banker.
Consequently, Justice Aikawa adjourned to May 5, 2017 and ordered the prosecution to produce PW1’s statement for the continuation of trial.