How Suswam diverted N3bn proceeds of Benue’s shares – EFCC
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Tuesday opened its case before a Federal High Court in Abuja against a former governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, and a former Commissioner for Finance under his administration, Omodachi Okolobia, accusing them of diverting N3bn out of N9bn proceeds of sales of some shares belonging to the state government.
The EFCC had on November 10, 2015 arraigned the two men before Justice Ahmed Mohammed on nine counts of money laundering involving about N3bn of the state’s funds.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to all the counts and were granted bail in the sum of N100m and one surety each.
The prosecution alleged that between August 8 and October 30, 2014 in Abuja, the defendants used a company, Elixir Securities Limited, to divert a total sum of N3, 111,008,018.51, allegedly stolen from proceeds of the sale of shares owned by the Benue State Government and Benue Investment and Property Company Limited.
The defendants were accused of diverting the money which formed part of the sum of N9,411,708,009.51 realised from the sale of the shares of the state, thereby committing an offence contrary to section 15(2)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, as amended, in 2012 and punishable under section 15(3) of the same Act.
Suswam and Okolobia were also accused of conspiracy and “criminal breach of trust” by diverting the sum of N3.1bn into the account of Fanffash Resources World-Wide Limited, a bureau de change company, to enable them receive the dollar equivalent of the sum, thereby committing an offence contrary to sections 97 and 315 of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, Vol. 4, LFN 2007.
According to the prosecution, the defendants used Elixir Securities Limited to transfer the total sum of N3.1bn to Fanffash Resources World-Wide Limited in four tranches – N413, 000,000 on August 8, 2014; N1bn on September 12, 2014; N638, 018,000.51 on October 13, 2014; and N1,068,000,000 on October 17, 2014.
A detective with the EFCC, Mr. Junaidu Saed, testifying as the first prosecution witness on Tuesday, said his team was asked to investigate the allegation against the defendants following a petition dated July 14, 2015 against Suswam and Okolobia.
Led in evidence by the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), Saed said his team’s investigation revealed that the House of Assembly did not approve the sale of the state government’s shares in Benue Investment and Property Company Limited.
Saed said, “Investigation revealed that the first defendant (Suswam) had requested that shares owned by the Benue State Government be sold for a sum of N10bn to be raised. Thereafter, Elixir was appointed as a stockbroker to carry out the sales of the shares.
“In carrying out this directive, Elixir realised over N9bn from the sales of the shares. The company was thereafter instructed to make payment of the over N9bn realised from the sales into three different accounts.
“The payment instruction was for the sum of N1bn to be paid to BIPC account and the balance be paid into two separate accounts of Benue State Ministry of Finance.
“When Elixir attempted to make payment into the two separate accounts of Benue State Ministry of Finance, it discovered that one of the accounts did not belong to the Benue State Ministry of Finance and that it belonged to one Fanffash Resources.
“Upon discovering this, Elixir sought clarification from the then Commissioner for Finance, the second defendant (Okolobia), who gave the go-ahead that the payment be made into the account of Fanffash. Elixir made the payment to Fanffash.
“Letter of investigation activities was then written to Zenith Bank Plc for the mandate and account statements of the Benue State Ministry of Finance and Fanffash Resources.
“Investigation revealed that over N5bn was paid into the Benue State Ministry of Finance’s account by Elixir while a total sum of N3, 111,008,018.51 was paid into Fanffash Resources’ account.
“Then a letter of investigation was written to the Clerk of the Benue State House of Assembly to verify if the House of Assembly had, at any time, approved the sales of Benue State shares.
“The response of the Clerk of the Benue State House of Assembly confirmed that no approval was given for the sale.
“The owner of Fanffash Resources, by name Abubakar Umar, was invited and he confirmed the receipt of the N3, 111,008,018.51 and that he converted same to dollar equivalent amounting to $15,800,000 and delivered same in cash to the first defendant (Suswam) at his residence in Maitama, Abuja.”
Jacobs also tendered some documents which were admitted by the court as exhibits.
The documents included petitions dated July 14, 2015 which prompted the EFCC’s investigation, statements by the two defendants, reply of Zenith Bank to EFCC’s letter of investigation activities on the two accounts of Fanffash and Benue State Ministry of Finance, accompanied by statements and certificates of the two accounts.
After the witness concluded his testimony, Suswam’s counsel, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), who took over from Ahmed Raji (SAN) in the middle of Tuesday’s proceedings, asked for an adjournment for the cross-examination of the witness.
The judge acceded to the request and adjourned the case till January 18 and 19, 2016.
Earlier, Justice Mohammed had overruled a request for adjournment by defence lawyers, Raji and Mr. Audu Anuga, who said they needed time to contact the bureau de change operators mentioned in the charges so that they could better prepare for their clients’ defence.
The judge, in upholding Jacobs’ objection, ruled that the application for adjournment ran afoul of provisions of Section 396 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which provides that trial must continue day-to-day after arraignment.
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