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Alleged N1.4bn Fraud: Court Admits N700m Withdrawal Instructions, Account Opening Documentations In Evidence Against NBA President, Usoro

PRESIDENT OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION, PAUL USORO (SAN) 

By Francis Iwuchukwu, Lagos 

The money laundering trial against the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Paul Usoro (SAN) began on Wednesday (today) with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, calling its first witness.

It would be recalled that the NBA President is being prosecuted before Justice Rilwan Aikawa of a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria over allegation of money laundering to the tune of N1.4bn belonging to Akwa Ibom State.

The witness, Udom Idongesit, who is a Relationship Manager with a new generation bank, located in Aka Road, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, stepped into the witness box after Justice Aikawa threw out an application instituted by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, wherein he urged that trial be adjourned indefinitely.

Specifically, Governor Emmanuel had asked Justice Aikawa to adjourn the trial sine die so as to allow the Lagos division of the Court of Appeal, to determine the appeal initiated by Governor Emmanuel against the ruling of the court delivered on  May 30, 2019.

According to the said ruling, Justice Aikawa had thrown out Emmanuel’s application questioning the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charge against Usoro on the grounds that his (Emmanuel) name was mentioned as one of the persons who allegedly conspired with Usoro to allegedly launder N1.4bn.

The governor had particularly argued that by mentioning his name, the charge had become invalid since as a sitting governor, he enjoyed immunity from prosecution.

However, Justice Aikawa held that the fact that the governor’s name was mentioned in the body of the charges did not mean that he was a defendant in the case.

Justice Aikawa therefore dismissed the application.

Not satisfied, Governor Emmanuel had appealed and prayed the court to adjourn indefinitely to await the appellate court’s decision.

In opposing this position, the anti-graft agency through its lawyer insisted that the request to adjourn indefinitely will amount to stay of proceedings which Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act; Section 40 of the EFCC Act and the Supreme Court had forbidden a trial court to entertain in criminal proceedings.

More so, the anti-graft agency had contended that since the court had pronounced that Emmanuel was not a party to the charge, there was no way he could ask for an adjournment.

Delivering ruling on the arguments, Justice Aikawa agreed with the submissions of the EFCC, clearing the way for trial to begin.

Testifying before the court, the Relationship Manager, whilst being led in evidence by the EFCC lawyer explained that sometime in March 2016, she went to the Akwa Ibom State Government House in Uyo on a “marketing call”.

According to her, “While there, I overheard a conversation between Emmanuel and the state’s Accountant General on the need to pay certain sums of money to Usoro.

“I took that as information for myself because the business I do basically thrives on information. 

“I got back to my office and checked through the system to see if the defendant (Usoro) had an account with Zenith Bank and I found no such account existed.

“Following this, I made moves to get Usoro to open an account with the Bank so that the money which Emmanuel spoke of could be paid to Usoro through the bank.

“On March 10, 2016, Aka Road branch of the bank was given a withdrawal instrument of N700m on the imprest account of the Akwa Ibom State Accountant General.

“Following this, i got Usoro’s contact from Emmanuel on March 14, 2016 and I put a call through to him, that I had the payment of the defendant and he needed to open an account.

“He instructed me to work with two of his colleagues. When I confirmed the exact names registered on the form, I sought the approval of my zonal head to open the account and made the deposit while waiting for documentation.

“I filled the deposit slip and the depositor’s name that I filled was Paul Usoro.”

The instructions given to the bank for the withdrawal of N700m from the Accountant General’s imprest account; as well as the documentation for the bank account opened for Usoro was admitted in evidence and marked as exhibits.

The matter has been adjourned until October 21 and 31, 2019.

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