The trial of one-time Lagos socialite and businessman, Fred Ajudua, began Monday with the prosecution calling its first witness, Michael Kreamer, who was allegedly duped of $550,000 in 1993.
Mr Ajudua was remanded in prison on Monday after he pleaded not guilty to a 12-count amended charge of conspiracy to obtain money by false pretence, obtaining money by false pretence, issuing forged document, and forgery.
Mr Kreamer, a German car dealer, testified before Mojisola Dada, a judge of the Ikeja Special Offences Court in Lagos.
While being led in evidence by the prosecuting counsel, Seidu Atteh, Mr Kreamer said, “I know the defendant through Ziad Abu Zalaf who is a very good customer in my company. At the time I was selling expensive cars, I had met Zalaf towards the end of the 1980s and he bought cars from me regularly.
“In 1993, Zalaf came to me and made a business proposal, he showed me different documents he had received from a business partner in Nigeria and in these documents, some had the name Fred Ajudua on them.
“Zalaf told me that for him to complete the business deal, he needed $550,000. Because we have developed a relationship over time, and he was a good customer of mine, I told him I would make the money available to him but I would have to accompany him to Nigeria to confirm the deal before giving him the money.”
Mr Kreamer said when he went with Mr Zalaf to Mr Ajudua’s office, he saw a lot of exotic cars and a lot of uniformed men. That, coupled with the office arrangement, got him convinced that it must be the office of a respectable lawyer. He, thus, concluded that the deal must be real.
He also said days before they got an appointment to visit Mr Ajudua in his office, some men had visited the hotel room they lodged to confirm if they were with the money for the deal and he had assured them the money was available.
He went further to say that when they got to Mr Ajudua’s office, the defendant inquired about the money and was told it was not with them.
“He was very angry and said he had to bring the money immediately or the contract will be lost,” Mr Kreamer recalled.
On hearing the threat, the witness continued, Mr Zalaf turned to him but he insisted on seeing an “irrevocable bank transfer document but Ajudua said he couldn’t produce such document but he was ready to give an original document to serve as receipt that he took the money from us and we left for the hotel.”
On getting to the hotel, Mr Kreamer said they further discussed the issue and after some days, he decided to give Mr Zalaf the money because he really wanted to help him but still insisted on a receipt to show this.
“I handed the money over to Zalaf from the hotel safe and he took it to Ajudua and he returned with an original document signed by Ajudua,” he said.
“After returning to Germany, I didn’t receive any response from Zalaf, because part of the money was from my business, I lost my house and my business because I could no longer fund it.
“I later realised that this entire business contract was a fraud and I won’t receive my money back but because I was in Germany, I couldn’t do anything about it. I came across a lady, Mrs Springerbeck, found out she could help me pursue the case in Nigeria and I handed over the documents I have with me to her and she has been doing that.”
During cross-examination by Norrison Quakers, counsel to the defendant, Mr Kreamer said he didn’t lodge any criminal complaint against Mr Ajudua when it happened. He also said he made the statements he made with the EFCC from his hotel room in the presence of Mrs Springerbeck, his attorney, and cannot confirm the correctness of his translated statements in English.
He also told the court that Mr Zalaf was not only a good customer but a good acquaintance as well. He said the money was meant to be a loan as dictated by the agreement they made.
When asked whether he was introduced to the business by the defendant, Mr Kreamer said, “I was introduced to the business by Zalaf and not the defendant, I also didn’t pay any money directly to the defendant.”
The judge adjourned the matter till June 7 for the defence to finish its cross-examination and the prosecution to call its next witness.